Russia, led by world champion Alexei Yagudin, dominated the Lalique Trophy figure skating grand prix on Saturday, winning three of the four events. Maria Butyrskaya won the women’s event and fellow former world champions Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikhuralidze prevailed in the pairs.
Only a stirring performance from Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat prevented a Russian sweep, the French world champions battling back to overtake Irina Lobacheva and Ilya Averbukh in the ice dance.
Trailing the Russian couple going into the decisive free dance, Anissina and Peizerat enticed a standing ovation from the French crowd with their rock opera performance to Beethoven’s Last Night and a perfect 6.0 from the French judge for presentation to go with six 5.9s.
With former world champion Elvis Stojko of Canada and American world bronze medallist Michael Weiss forced out of the event with injuries, Yagudin had only himself to challenge as he made his return to competition after being sidelined for almost a month with a virus. But the 20-year-old Russian, skating to the soundtrack of the film “The Gladiator”, showed no signs of rust as he opened his routine by nailing a quadruple-toe loop, triple-toe loop combination. Adding eight more triples, some dazzling footwork and spins to a dramatic performance, Yagudin was rewarded with perfect presentation marks of 6.0 from three judges — the six others awarding him 5.9s — to finish easily in front Frenchman Stannick Jeannette and fellow Russian Roman Serov. “I’ve been sick and lost a lot of energy,” said Yagudin, who lost to American Timothy Goebel at Skate America before redeeming himself with a victory at Skate Canada.
“In the warm-up my legs felt a little lazy but on the ice I was okay.
“Tonight I wasn’t nervous like I usually am because a lot of the competitors like Elvis and Michael weren’t here.”
Butyrskaya, who surrendered her world crown to American Michelle Kwan in Nice last March where she had to settle for the bronze, looked ready to mount a challenge to reclaim the title after she collected her second grand prix victory in three weeks. Skating to Mikael Tariverdiev’s 17 Moments in Spring, the 28-year-old Russian veteran turned in an elegant but flawed performance, crashing to the ice on an attempted triple flip. But near-perfect presentation marks of 5.9 from six of the nine judges allowed Butyrskaya to finish comfortablely ahead of compatriot Viktoria Volchkova and the newest American skating prodigy, 16-year-old junior world champion Jennifier Kirk, who claimed a place on the podium in her senior debut competition. “To be honest I expected more from myself,” said Butyrskaya. “Just two weeks ago in Germany I skated much better but it’s over and I won so I’m happy.” Berezhnaya and Sikhuralidze, world champions in 1998 and 1999, were not given a chance to defend their crown on the French Riviera when Berezhnaya was disqualified on the eve of the competition for a failed a drug test and suspended for three months.
But the Russian couple appear to have put the controversy and problems behind them as they followed up last week’s victory at the Russian Cup with another confident-boosting win in France ahead Canada’s Jamie Sale and David Pelletier.