Ice Skating: Russians ready for showdown

YEVGENY PLUSHENKO and Alexei Yagudin set up another Russian free- skating showdown in Helsinki yesterday by taking the top two positions in the men's short programme at the World Figure Skating Championships.

Plushenko won the short programme on all the judges' rankings with a performance to "Hava Nagila" that hit all the required elements. Yagudin's circus-themed routine placed him second, followed by Elvis Stojko and the American Michael Weiss. Yagudin and Plusehenko each won their opening qualifying section, which counts for 20 per cent of the final score.

Yagudin, who has a sore left calf, was not perfect, stepping out of a triple-triple combination. Neither was Stojko, who two-footed a quad and had only a triple-double in his programme. Weiss had an easier routine than the others, and two-footed his triple flip. As a result the judges' votes were split among the three. Each had three second-places from the nine judges, but Yagudin had enough thirds and fourths to be second overall.

The short programme is worth 30 per cent of the final score, so the second place keeps him in contention. If he wins tomorrow's free programme, he will retain his title. If Plushenko wins, he will be world champion at 16.

Stojko needs both Russians to make serious errors if he is to win his fourth world title and Weiss is in the same situation. A win in the long programme does not guarantee him the title as it does for the Russians. Both need help from others.

Early in the evening, China's Guo Zhengxin hit a quadruple jump out of a series of fast steps, becoming the first skater to do that in a world championship short programme.

Russians took the lead in the ice dance with Angelika Krylova and Oleg Ovsiannikov putting in a smooth display to the paso double and tango romantica set dances. That put them solidly in first for the portion counting 20 per cent of the total score.

There was a tie for second between Canada's Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz and France's Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat. Each ranked ahead of the other in one of the dances although Anissina and Peizerat received a first place vote from the French judge.

The original dance to the waltz is tomorrow, is followed by the free dance on Friday.

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