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Sotnikova leads Europeans after short program

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Adelina Sotnikova and Julia Lipnitskaia gave Russia a 1-2 lead after the women's short program at the European figure skating championships on Wednesday.

Carolina Kostner of Italy and the third Russian competitor, Alena Leonova, were third and fourth, respectively. The short program of the ice dance competition was an extremely close contest won by Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy, who finished just 0.04 points ahead of Russians Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov. The Italians scored 69.58 points against 69.54 for the Russian couple.

Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland of Britain were third with 61.76 points. The event concludes Thursday with the free dance program. Sotnikova repeated her result from last year's Europeans, where she also had the best score in the short program. However, she was overtaken in the free skate by Kostner and finished second.

While the free skate on Friday could determine which of the three Russians will fill the host country's two slots at the Olympic Games in Sochi next month, Sotnikova said she did not have the internal competition on her mind.

"I am only here to skate," she said. Sotnikova's routine to music from George Bizet's "Carmen" opera was gracious and fluid, and earned her the second-best score for artistic merit, just a tenth of a point behind Kostner.

"It wasn't perfect yet, there were little mistakes, but overall I am pleased with it," Sotnikova said. "I got a new season's best score and this is what I need in this competition." Sotnikova totaled 70.73 points, while Kostner had 69.97 and Lipnitskaia scored 68.97.

Lipnitskaia's opening triple lutz-triple toe loop combination, the same jump used by American Gracie Gold to begin her short program at the U.S. Championships last week, was the most difficult of all the jumps executed at the event. It also helped her score the highest total for technical elements, 38.06.

Only 15 years old and taking part in her first European Championships, her style points were third behind Kostner and Sotnikova. Lipnitskaia's routine was also noticeably faster than the others', especially her final spin — a change foot combination, though she said it came naturally to her.

"If you skate too slow, it's not feeling comfortable at all," she said. "I'm trying to be fast on the ice and I don't think it's hard for me because I am little bit smaller than the other competitors."

All three Russians are former world junior champions, with Leonova winning in 2009, Sotnikova in 2011 and Lipnitskaia in 2012. Kostner, who at 26 is among the older competitors and has won the European Championship five times dating back to 2007, said she was still experiencing some of the back pain and strong headaches which made her withdraw from some events before the Europeans.

She was inspired, however, by her new routine to Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria." "It was the first time for me to skate it in competition," Kostner said. "When the music started, I felt just like the fog went away."

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