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Joubert pips Contesti to capture third European title

BRIAN Joubert of France won the European championship for the third time with a convincing 11-point victory over Italy's Samuel Contesti in Helsinki on Thursday.

Joubert amassed 232.01 points after placing second in the free program to countryman Yannick Ponsero. Contesti rose from third to the overall silver medal with 220.92 points. Belgium's Kevin Van Der Perren took bronze with 219.36 points.

The exciting men's free program almost lifted Ponsero onto the podium; he wound up .06 behind Van Der Perren. Ponsero rose to fourth from ninth place after the short program, which Joubert won.

Defending champion Tomas Verner, second after the short program, slipped to seventh in the free skate and dropped to sixth overall. Verner stumbled on his very first move, a quadruple toe loop.

For the 24-year-old Joubert it was the 12th title at the elite level. He won the Euro championship in 2004 and in 2007, when he also became the world champion.

"I like this title the most of my European titles," Joubert said. "The beginning of the season was very difficult, with many problems. I changed my program just two weeks ago."

Joubert said an ailing back had prevented him from skating in the Grand Prix finals and the French nationals. "It still feels bad. Not in jumps, but in steps and spins," he said.

Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski of Russia won the original dance, extending their lead. They scored 62.17 for their entertaining program to "Sam's Blues" and "Puttin' on the Ritz," giving them a total score of 99.60.

They led Italy's Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali by more than four points heading into Friday's free dance, putting them in excellent position to win their first European title.

"We did all the elements clean and got a high component score, so we are very pleased," Khokhlova said.

Khokhlova and Novitski had altered the first lift in their routine because they didn't feel it was rewarded enough by judges in earlier competitions. It went smoothly on Thursday, as did the rest of their lifts.

"Apparently we did the right thing because we had a high technical score," Novitski said.

British siblings Sinead and John Kerr were third, maintaining the same spot in the overall standings. French pair Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat finished fourth.

Russia's Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, favored to defend their title, withdrew on Wednesday because of his knee injury.

"Maxim fell in the compulsory dance on his left knee, the one that was injured before, and where he had two surgeries," said Natalia Linichuk, Domnina and Shabalin's coach.


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