Before the 1996 Europeans, no Russian or Soviet woman had ever won a world or European championship. Then Irina Slutskaya broke through to win that year and again in 1997 before Maria Butyrskaya unseated her last year.
Butyrskaya won again here with a performance that earned her first-place votes from every judge in all three phases of the competition. "My goal is to be on top in Helsinki and I think I can compete with Michelle Kwan now," said Butyrskaya, 26.
Behind Butyrskaya, though not yet in her or Kwan's class artistically, are Julia Solatova and Viktoria Volchkova. Both are excellent jumpers, the 16-year-old Volchkova looking particularly strong until her legs gave way late in her free programme.
The Russians claim to have 10 good women skaters at home as a new programme to boost their women after previous disappointment bears fruit.