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Slutskaya suddenly looking vulnerable

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland ? Irina Slutskaya's fall received more attention than Maria Butyrskaya's victory in the European Figure Skating Championships.

Slutskaya, generally considered the main challenger for Americans Michelle Kwan and Sarah Hughes at the Salt Lake City Olympics next month, suddenly looked vulnerable Sunday. While Slutskaya's surprising mistakes might have shifted the role of gold-medal favorite to Kwan, the Russian remained positive.

"I had really surprising mistakes for me, but I think it is good they are now," Slutskaya said. "I know I will prepare hard for the Olympics and I will skate well there. It may be good experience to have them now, not in a couple weeks."

The women's short program for the Olympics is scheduled for Feb. 19.

Slutskaya's technical ability had given her the edge over Kwan, Hughes and Butyrskaya in their recent meetings. She has defeated Kwan six of the last eight times in major meets, but was not impressive in the three phases of the competition in the European Championships.

Slutskaya said she wants to rest a bit after a hectic month during which she won two competitions, and finished second in another.

"It has been a hard month for me," Slutskaya said. "There was the Grand Prix final. After a week, we had the Russian nationals. Then 10 days after that, the Europeans. Three important competitions. They are important, not just for the places but also psychologically."

She did not want to say when she will come to the United States to prepare for the Olympics.

"I don't want to talk about it right now. I will talk with my coach and the Russian president," Slutskaya said, referring to Russian skating federation head Valentin Piseyev.

Butyrskaya said she will come to the United States on Jan. 29, and train on the East Coast before heading to Utah.

Butyrskaya and Slutskaya helped the Russians to a sweep of the medals in the women's event for the fourth consecutive time as the Russians took three of the four titles.

Alexei Yagudin held off a challenge from Alexander Abt to win the men's title. Yevgeny Plushenko skipped the competition to rest his injured groin.

Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin won the pairs. Defending champions Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze also skipped the competition to rest injuries.

France's Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat regained the ice dance title, edging Italy's Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio.