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Russia suffers lack of figure skating stars

The Russian skaters haven’t shown great level at Cup of Russia figure skating event.

After a decade of dominating the Grand Prix circuit, Russians have been getting onto the podium infrequently. Last year, Russia failed for the first time to get a top-three placing at the Cup of Russia.

This year's edition, which begins Friday at the Megasport arena, looks a bit more promising.

Russian ice dancers Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, who won silver at the Cup of China, face Natalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France, who finished second at Skate America. The rest of the field has been weakened by the withdrawal of Americans Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov because of injury.

"In dance, I'm sure that Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin will be first. As to the other (events), I don't know," Russian figure skating federation head Valentin Piseyev said.

That ambivalence comes despite having two promising entries in the pairs event: Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov, the Russian national champions; and Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov, the bronze winners at Skate Canada.

But the competition is strong in pairs. The Russians will face both Olympic silver medalists Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao of China, who took gold at Trophee Bompard, and Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin, Szolkowy, the gold winners at Skate Canada.

In the singles event, Johnny Weir of the United States could have a kind of home advantage. Weir is one of the top contenders after winning in Beijing this year, and the American trains part-time in Moscow and has developed a large and devoted fan base in Russia.

But the men's field also includes two-time world champion Stephane Lambiel, who will be looking to overcome a disappointing season start, and Olympic bronze medalist Jeffrey Buttle of Canada.

Of Russia's three men entries - Alexander Uspenski, Andrei Gryazev and Andrei Lutai - only Lutai has a Grand Prix medal to his name, a bronze from the Cup of China two years ago. Uspenski was fifth at the Cup of China this year.

Russia's dearth of stars is also apparent in the women's event, where Piseyev last week suddenly removed Alexandra Ievleva, whose best result was 7th at Skate America, and Ksenia Doronina. Their replacements are Katarina Gerboldt and Nina Petushkova.

Those two and Arina Martinova face South Korea's Kim Yu-na, who won the Cup of China and last year's Grand Prix final, and Japan's Fumie Suguri. The women's field also includes American Beatrisa Liang, Canada's Joannie Rochette and Hungary's Julia Sebestyen.

"Our women's skating is weak. It's hard to know what to expect here," Piseyev said. "I think part of the fault is due to the athletes, who don't train as tenaciously as, for instance, the Japanese."

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