Slutskaya wins Cup of Russia, ensuring spot in Grand Prix finals

Saturday, November 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) _ Irina Slutskaya was hesitant with a still-developing free program, but assured enough to win the women's event of the Cup of Russia Grand Prix on Saturday.

Skating to selections from Puccini's ``Tosca,'' Slutskaya began confidently, landing for her first jump a clean triple lutz that came almost as a surprise because she didn't make a long foot-cock as most skaters do leading up to the difficult jump.

But some other jumps weren't spot-on and she stepped out of a triple loop before recovering for a strong finish sequence that included a pair of Bielmann spins.

``It was much better today'' compared with Friday when she fell during the short program, Slutskaya said. ``But still I haven't put all the elements I want into the program.''

As with the day before, Slutskaya's presentation _ vivid, warm and projecting clear enjoyment of being on the ice _ earned her 5.8s and 5.9s, pulling her into first place despite technical marks of 5.5 to 5.7 and ensuring a spot in the Grand Pix final in Kitchener, Ontario, in December.

Russia's Viktoria Volchkova followed in second place, overcoming a low-spirited fourth place in the short program with an elegant and assured program showing off her ability to soar on jumps.

Volchkova was competing only for money and experience, not for points in the Grand Prix competition and she could be knocked out of the finals depending on results of next week's NHK event in Japan.

But asked whether she wished she could substitute the Cup of Russia for her fourth-place finish for points in the previous week's Lalique Trophy Grand Prix, she said ``I have no regrets ... What's important is the nationals,'' which determine who gets Olympics slots.

That was also the outlook of American Angela Nikodinov, who ended in third place. She had started strong, but then faded, putting a hand down coming out of a triple toe loop and singling a lutz late in the program.

``I'm still getting used to the program ... I'm getting better and better. I hope to peak in the nationals,'' she said.

Later in the day, the pairs competition was to feature Russian teams Maria Petrova and Alexei Tihonov and Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, in first and third after the short program with France's Sarah Abitbol and Stephane Bernadis in between.

World champion Yevegeny Plushchenko, appearing stronger and more inventive than ever, entered the men's free program as the clear favorite, followed by Bulgaria's Ivan Dinev and American Matthew Savoie.