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Russian Federation announces team for Europeans

All national gold and silver medalists will head to Zagreb

Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov won the short program with 65.02 points.
Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov won the short program with 65.02 points. (Getty Images)

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By Tatiana Flade, special to icenetwork.com
(01/07/2008) - Figure Skating Federation of Russia President Valentin Piseev announced the Russian team for the 2008 European Championships in Zagreb, Croatia, on Monday after the completion of the national championships in St. Petersburg last weekend. There were no major surprises as all the national champions and silver medalists were selected.

Sergei Voronov, Andrei Lutai, Ksenia Doronina, Nina Petushkova, Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov, Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov, Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski, and Ekaterina Rubleva and Ivan Shefer will represent Russia at the Europeans from Jan. 21 to 26. The third spot for the pairs went to national bronze medalists Arina Ushakova and Sergei Karev, but the third dance spot has been reserved for Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, who were unable to compete due to Shabalin's meniscus surgery. According to Piseev, Shabalin is back on the ice now and the team is expected to compete in Zagreb.

"The overall level at nationals was significantly higher than last year", Piseev said. "We are especially pleased with how Doronina and Petushkova performed in the short program. Petushkova is still rather new and needs to improve her choreography. Our top two pairs team showed a high level as well, and the pairs of [coach] Natalia Pavlova [Ushakova and Karev and Liubov Iliushetchkina and Nodari Maisuradze] surprised us pleasantly. The battle between the men was really exciting," the president continued.

The championships proved that Russian skating is on its way back to the top but still needs some time to rise to its former glory. The men are the strongest category with five or six skaters competing at a high level. Aside from the top senior skaters -- Voronov, Lutai, Andrei Griazev, Konstantin Menshov and Alexander Uspenski -- there are also promising juniors such as Ivan Bariev, Vladimir Uspenski, Artem Grigoriev and Artur Gachinski.

The field is less deep in the ladies, but Doronina has progressed a lot in the last year. Aside from the top two pairs teams, not only Ushakova and Karev and Iliushetchkina and Maisuradze have potential, but also several junior teams like Ksenia Krasilnikova and Konstantin Bezmaternikh and Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov have great potential. Bazarova and Larionov have even already medaled at a senior ISU Grand Prix event, taking the bronze at Skate America last October. In dance, Russia can rely on their top two teams, but several others are also on the rise. Rubleva and Shefer, Natalia Mikhailova and Andrei Maximishin and Anastasia Platonova and Alexander Grachev assure that the level of dance in Russia will remain high.

Evgeni Plushenko, who was present throughout the event, confirmed that he is planning his comeback for next year.

"I will prepare three different short and free programs to have something to choose from. I want to try something new and different", Plushenko told icenetwork.com. "You'll see me on the Grand Prix and at Russian nationals next season."

The 25-year-old still is bothered by his injured right knee, but he remains confident that another trip to his German doctors in Munich will help him to recover completely. In the exhibition gala on Monday, Plushenko performed one of his planned new short programs to "Criminal St. Petersburg" and landed a triple toe-triple toe combination. "I have been canceling shows in order to concentrate fully on my comeback," the 2006 Olympic champion pointed out.