BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — This was not the same Irina Slutskaya who beat Michelle Kwan twice this season.
The Russian champion needed three attempts to hit a routine triple lutz and she skipped her signature triple-triple combination. Still, she hit five strong triple jumps, skating with diligence Saturday to win her fourth European figure skating title.
The Russians swept the women's competition, though not with the level of excellence that typifies the country's skating.
Maria Butyrskaya fell twice but still finished second after hitting five triples and winning high marks for artistry; Victoria Volchkova was third, although she finished fifth in the free skating, scaling a triple flip down to a single.
Slutskaya's fourth European gold puts her in rarefied company--only four others, including Katarina Witt and Sonja Henie, have won more. But the real prize this season is the world title, and Slutskaya will skate head-to-head against Kwan in Vancouver, Canada, next month.
Slutskaya blamed flu for the weaker-than-usual program, saying she had been skating for only a week after spending a week in bed.
Still, it was all she needed to win, with technical marks ranging from 5.5 to 5.8. Her artistic marks, to a balletic "Don Quixote" inspired by the Bolshoi ballet, were in the 5.7 to 5.8 range.
"Now I will prepare more for the Grand Prix final [also next month] and the worlds," Slutskaya said.
Yevgeny Plushchenko edged Alexei Yagudin in the men's event, where each completed three quad jumps .
Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze reclaimed the pairs title stripped from them last year after a drug violation that also prevented them from competing at the world championships.
Russia took home three titles and eight of the 12 medals from the competition.
Barbara Fusar Poli and Maurizio Margaglio of Italy won the ice dance, taking advantage of a stunning fall by the defending European and world champions Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat of France.