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Savchenko, Szolkowy win 3rd straight

ALIONA Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy soared to their third consecutive pairs skating title at the European championships in Helsinki, Finland, on Wednesday.

The Germans had almost three points to make up on leaders Marina Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov of Russia after the short program, but swept past them by amassing 132.43 points in the free program. Mukhortova-Trankov got just 112.45.

Savchenko and Szolkowy totaled 199.07 points, a season best, easily beating Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov, also of Russia. They earned 182.77 to win silver by seven-tenths over Mukhortova-Trankov.

Russian-born Savchenko and Szolkowy, whose father was Nigerian, showed their class in a program that started with a side-by-side triple toe loop sequence, and a throw triple flip. When they followed those moves with a double salchow instead of a triple in side-by-side jumps, it mattered little because their lifts toward the end of the routine and their final throw triple salchow were excellent.

"I'm sorry for doubling the salchow. I was maybe too focused and wanted it too much, but after that the program just flowed," Szolkowy said. "We wanted to attack today. We are very happy with our performance."

In the men's short program, Brian Joubert of France took a commanding 5.45-point lead over defending champion Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic. Joubert got a personal-best 86.90 points.

Verner also skated well and earned his own best score of 81.45 points. But he failed to pose a challenge for Joubert by performing a triple toe loop instead of a full quadruple in his combination jump.

Joubert answered with a flawless quadruple toe loop-triple toe combination, and also succeeded in his triple axel and triple lutz.

"I am very pleased to have beaten my personal best," Joubert said. "I was confident, although I made a big mistake in the warmup on the quad toe loop. The fall put pressure on me, but I came here to win."

The 24-year-old was world champion in 2007 and has won 11 medals at world and Euro championships, including the 2004 and 2007 European titles.

Reigning ice dance champs Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin withdrew because of his knee injury, the second top couple sidelined by injuries. Shabalin had a surprising fall in the compulsory dance on Tuesday, dropping the pair to fifth.

Domnina and Shabalin were favored to defend their title in Helsinki, with reigning world champions Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder of France out as she recovers from shoulder surgery.


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