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Sotnikova leads after debut at Europeans

ZAGREB, Croatia--Adelina Sotnikova of Russia produced a superb performance in her debut at the European figure skating championships, winning the women's short program on Friday.

Meanwhile, Russian champions Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev did just enough to win the ice dance title after finishing second in the free dance.

The 16-year-old Sotnikova, who was just 12 when she won her first senior Russian title, is finally old enough to compete at Europeans, and she wasted no time making quite the impression. She landed a triple toe loop-triple toe loop combination, a triple flip and double axel in a routine that gave her 67.61 points from the judges.

“Today I'm very happy, I did everything I set out to and it was my first clean short program I did at the senior level,” said Sotnikova, who beat her previous personal best by 6.29 points. “Hopefully I'll skate as well (in the free skate) tomorrow.”

Defending champion Carolina Kostner's chances to earn a fifth European crown dwindled when she fell on the triple toe-triple toe combination, leaving the Italian trailing in second on 64.19 points.

“Apart from my fall I'm very pleased with how I skated,” said Kostner, who is also the reigning world champion. “I felt very comfortable with how I skated today. I hope to do better tomorrow.”

Valentina Marchei of Italy placed third on 58.22 while another Russian 16-year-old, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, was fourth. Swedish sisters Joshi and Viktoria Helgesson were fifth and sixth, respectively.

Later, Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov won the free skate with a personal-best 100.16 points. But they had to settle for silver after Bobrova and Soloviev edged their compatriots by 0.11 of a point overall for their first European title.

France's Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat had been favored to win their third straight European title. But they were forced to withdraw before the event after he partially tore an adductor muscle.

Bobrova and Soloviev led after Wednesday's short dance, and that was enough to give them a title after they scored a personal best 169.25 for a free dance to “Tosca” and music from Ennio Morricone.

Italian pair Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte claimed the bronze after finishing third in both sections.

Florent Amodio of France leads the men's competition going into Saturday's free skate. The European bronze medalist won the short program on Thursday, when 2006 Olympic gold medalist and three-time world champion Evgeni Plushenko dropped out after aggravating a chronic back condition.

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 Azarenka retains Australian Open title 
Russian Adelina Sotnikova performs during the women's short skating program of the European Championship in Zagreb, Croatia, Friday, Jan. 25.

(AP)

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