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Urmanov, Pliuta lead qualifying groups

January 19, 1997

PARIS (AP) _ Russian and former Soviet skaters dominated the opening session as the European Figure Skating Championships began Sunday with men’s qualifying.

Russian Alexei Urmanov, the 1994 Olympic champion, and Yevgeny Pliuta of Ukraine, a former junior world champion often overshadowed by teammates, were first in each of their groups. The top 15 of each group moved into Wednesday’s short program with the final free skating on Thursday.

The results of the qualifications are not carried over, and all the favorites advanced.

Urmanov barely held first in the opening group of the afternoon from a former teammate Igor Pashkevitch, now skating for Azerbaijan. Pashkevitch was second in the European championships last year for Russia, but was bypassed for the world championships in favor of Urmanov and Ilya Kulik. So Pashkevitch changed nationalities.

It was a 4-3 decision for first by the judges with a tiebreaker needed for one judge.

``Starting the competition this way is not too bad,″ Pashkevitch said. ``I think I will be stronger on Thursday and will be better.″

Urmanov’s artistic style was the factor that broke the tie although Pashkevitch was the only skater in that group to do the difficult triple axel-triple toe loop combination.

Urmanov attempted a quadruple jump but fell. Still he did six triple jumps, as did Pashkevitch.

Third was another Russian, Alexei Yagudin. The former world junior champion also fell on an attempted quad.

Dissatisfied was Alexei Mishin, coach for both Urmanov and Yagudin.

``Their performances of today were not the best way to prepare for the main event,″ Mishin said.

In the other group, Pliuta was the surprising winner.

The 22-year-old skater has often been in the shadow of Ukrainian teammates, Viacheslav Zagorodniuk, Viktor Petrenko and Dmitry Dmitrenko, all of whom have won European titles since 1993. Petrenko won the 1992 Olympic title.

Pliuta, was the only skater of the afternoon to complete seven triples, faltering only on a second attempted triple axel.

``I’m quite happy with my program. I made one small mistake which is not very important,″ Pliuta said. ``It’s only the qualifying round.″

He won over France’s Philippe Candeloro and Dmitrenko with 1995 European champion Kulik of Russia fourth. Michael Schmerkin, a former Soviet skater now representing Israel, was fifth with Zagorodniuk sixth.

The women qualify on Monday. The serious competitions begin Tuesday with ice dance compulsories and the pairs short program.

Irina Slutskaya leads a strong trio of Russian women. She beat five-time champion Surya Bonaly of France last year.

Bonaly, still recovering from an Achilles injury, received a go-ahead from the French Federation and was entered on Saturday after first being listed only as a substitute.

`` It wasn’t planned, but in my head I always wanted to do it,″ Bonaly said.

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