First to skate in the Short Program was Sarah Hughes. The 15-year-old American delivered a solid if somewhat slow performance to 'Vocalise" by Sergei Rachmaninov that included a double Axel, a triple Lutz - double toe loop (not landed completely backwards) and a triple flip. Hughes, silver medalist in both of her previous Grand Prix events - Skate America and the Sparkassen Cup - placed third overall, but the judges were divided between her and Elena Sokolova (RUS).
Sokolova took to the ice right after Hughes. In her dynamic "Gypsy Dance" (from the ballet "Don Quixote"), she hit the triple Lutz - double toe loop combination, a high triple loop and double Axel out of a spread eagle. "This was much better than at Skate America" (her first Grand Prix event), said Sokolova. "I really felt the support of the audience, and it helped me." Hughes was also pleased with her skating. "I felt like I skated faster than in Germany. The program keeps getting better", she explained.
World Silver Medalist Irina Slutskaya (RUS), however, topped her two main competitors. The Muscovite nailed her trademark triple Lutz - double loop combination and a high triple flip. She sparkled from the first second of her program to the last and took first place ordinals from all seven judges. "I felt more confident than at Skate Canada, because this is my second competition", Slutskaya said. To her, it doesn't make a difference whether she skates at home in Russia, or abroad. "When I go out there and skate, it doesn't matter to me if I'm in Russia or elsewhere. I just focus on my program and my elements."
Sasha Cohen (USA) didn't make any major mistakes and placed fourth place in the short program.
Elena Sokolova, second in the short program, was the first of the medal contenders to skate the long program. She showed great improvement since her first Grand Prix event, which was Skate America three weeks ago. The 20-year-old reeled off a triple Lutz and then a triple toe - triple toe loop - double loop combination, but she over-rotated the second triple and two-footed the loop. Sokolova later attempted a triple Salchow - half loop - triple loop sequence in her dynamic program set to "Masquerade Suite" by Aram Katchaturian, but stepped out of the last jump. The judges awarded her marks up to 5.8 for technique, and for presentation.
Irina Slutskaya, leader in the short program, knew she would need to do well in this strong field. The World silver medalist from Moscow started with a triple Lutz - double loop, but two-footed the loop. She completed a triple Salchow - double loop combination and four more triples, and had excellent spins. However, Slutskaya did four combinations in her "Don Quixote" program although, according to the rules, only three are allowed. Consequently the judges were forced to make a deduction and she received marks ranging from 5.6 to 5.8 for technique and 5.7 to 5.9 for presentation.
Sarah Hughes (USA), who sat in third before the free skate, was last to skate. Also skating to "Don Quixote", the 15-year-old delivered a solid performance that featured a double Axel and six triples. However, Hughes did not complete her planned triple Salchow - triple loop combination, popping the loop. After the free skate the standings from the short program remained unchanged; Slutskaya took the gold, Sokolova finished second and Hughes claimed the bronze medal.
All three ladies were quite pleased with how the competition went. "There were some little mistakes, that's why the marks went down", said Slutskaya. "I didn't change my program, it was just that not all the planned elements worked." Sokolova was proud of her two triple-triple combinations, even if they weren't perfect. "The main goal for this competition was to do these triple-triples. I wanted to do them last season, but it didn't work in competition. Now I'm fed up with being a practice champion!" Hughes said she felt stronger than in her previous competitions. "The Grand Prix helped me a lot to learn to skate without taking a break", she explained. American Sasha Cohen delivered a good program with six triples and a double Axel. However, her triple loop, as well as her flip and Axel were shaky. The 16-year-old stayed 4th overall in the standings.
Cup of Russia was Slutskaya's first scoring event. She currently has 12 points and will compete again at the NHK Trophy in two weeks. Sokolova is now finished with her Grand Prix competitions and has 16 points overall and has to wait and see if that will be enough to qualify her for the Final. Hughes is in the same situation, having scored 7 points at Cup of Russia and another 9 points from the Sparkassen Cup.
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