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Johnny Weir leads U.S. team at Cup of Russia

Johnny Weir.
Johnny Weir. (Getty Images)

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By Tatiana Flade, special to icenetwork.com
(11/21/2007) - Johnny Weir leads the U.S. team at the Cup of Russia this week in Moscow. The Cup of Russia is the fifth of six events in the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating series.

Weir, who won the Cup of China two weeks ago with a new personal best score of 231.78 points, wants to continue his successful comeback in Russia. Also on the line is a berth in the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final in Torino, Italy (Dec. 13-16). The three-time U.S. Champion traveled directly from China to Russia, and prepared for the event in the Russian capital with coach Galina Zmievskaya. Weir's main challengers should be two-time World Champion Stéphane Lambiel of Switzerland, and 2006 Olympic bronze medalist Jeffrey Buttle of Canada. Both didn't start too well this season, and finished third at the Cup of China and Skate Canada, respectively.

They have to do better here in Moscow in order to make the Grand Prix Final. Buttle earned 198.77 points in Quebec City, and Lambiel had 192.22 in Harbin. A bunch of young and hungry skaters are waiting for their chance to step on to the podium; Russia sends three men: National Champion Andrei Griazev, National silver medalist Andrei Lutai and Alexander Uspenski. Griazev enters his first international competition this season after struggling with injuries. Lutai finished seventh at Skate America with 180.88 points, and Alexander Uspenski was fifth in China with 179.94 points.

Other competitors to watch include 2006 World Junior Champion Takahito Kozuka (JPN), Yannick Ponsero (FRA), Kevin Reynolds (CAN), Kristoffer Berntsson (SWE) and Gregor Urbas (SLO).

In the ladies event, 2007 World bronze medalist Yu-Na Kim of Korea is the top contender. She easily won the Cup of China with a new personal best of 180.68 points, the highest score any lady has achieved this season. However, Skate Canada silver medalist Yukari Nakano of Japan, and Skate Canada bronze medalist Joannie Rochette of Canada are ready to challenge the Korean. Nakano landed a clean triple Axel in Quebec City, and accumulated 169.43 points. Rochette was not far behind at 168.18 points. Also aiming for a podium finish are Japan's 2006 World silver medalist Fumie Suguri, who was fourth in China (137.13 points), and 2004 European Champion Julia Sebestyen of Hungary (fifth in China at 136.60 points). European bronze medalist Kiira Korpi of Finland competes in her first Grand Prix event after missing Skate America due to illness. The lone U.S. competitor in Moscow is BeBe Liang, who hopes to improve on her sixth-place finish from Harbin.

The Pairs event features the first duel between Europe's and Asia's top team: European Champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany will compete against 2006 Olympic and World silver medalists Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang of China. The Chinese impressed last week with a strong outing at the Trophee Eric Bompard Cachemire, setting a new personal best score of 196.96 points. The Germans won Skate Canada with 188.63 points, and have had two weeks to work on their programs. It will be also interesting to see which one of the two Russian teams will come out on top. Both Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov and Maria Mukhortova/ and Maxim Trankov took bronze medals at their first Grand Prix event, and have a chance to make the Final. The Russian Champion earned a new personal best score of 169.82 points in Paris, while Kawaguchi and Smirnov scored 165.19 points in Canada. They plan to attempt the quadruple throw Salchow again this week, however, Tiffany Vise and Derek Trent (USA) became the first couple in history to perform a clean quadruple throw Salchow in ISU competition last week in Paris.

Other teams in the event are 2007 World Junior bronze medalists Ksenia Krasilnikova and Konstantin Bezmaternykh (Russia), Adeline Canac and Maximin Coia (France), Laura Magitteri and Ondrej Hotarek (Italy), Maria Sergejeva and Ilja Glebov (Estonia).

European silver medalists Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia are the favorites for their home event. They were second at the Cup of China with 188.66 points, and will make sure this time not to repeat the costly mistake on their dance spin from China. There, Shabalin had lifted his partner accidentally during the spin, which was counted as a lift. The mistake cost them about eight points. Competition should come from Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France, who claimed the silver medal at Skate America with 181.84 points. They hope to qualify for the Grand Prix Final for the first time in their career. Top contenders for the bronze in Moscow are reigning World Junior Champions Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev of Russia, who placed fifth at Skate Canada (151.97 points total score). Never count out Anastasia Grebenkina and Vazgen Azrojan, the Armenian's, to steal the show. They won a bronze medal on the Grand Prix in 2005 in Japan, and were fifth last week in Paris.

Other competitors include Ekaterina Rubleva and Ivan Shefer (Russia), Anna Zadarozhniuk and Sergei Verbillo (Ukraine), Nelli Zhiganshina and Alexander Gazsi (Germany) and Kamila Hajkova and David Vincour (Czech Republic).