NEW SCORING SYSTEM: Created after a judging scandal three years ago at the Salt Lake City Olympics, figure skating's new scoring format gets its biggest test when the European championships open Tuesday in Turin, Italy. The event takes place at the renovated rink that will be used in the 2006 Winter Games. The Russians are a threat to win all four titles. Judges gave two scores under the old system: one for technical merit and one for artistry. The new system forces them to tally separate scores for each element, such as jumps, spins and footwork.
In place for two years on the Grand Prix circuit, the new system is an attempt to make the scoring more detailed and objective.
Scott Davis, the 1993-94 U.S. national men's champion, said that under the old system a skater was left with a question after receiving a score.
"What really did it mean?" he said. "I think it is going to push the sport. You watch the skating now. Everyone is trying to do difficult footwork."
At last year's championships, both singles titles went to non-Russians. Julia Sebestyen won in her native Hungary, and France's Brian Joubert beat three-time European and world champion Evgeni Plushenko, who stumbled in the free program. Russia swept all four titles at the annual championships from 1997-99 and again in 2003.
Five-time European champion Irina Slutskaya is back after a season of illness. She is unbeaten this season and defeated Michelle Kwan, who won her ninth U.S. title last week, at an invitational in December.
Plushenko beat Joubert soundly last month at the Grand Prix final in Beijing. The Frenchman, who finished fifth, left coach Laurent Depouilly this month for new coach Veronique Guyon.
"It was a decision I had to take, there were too many misunderstandings between us," he said.
Slutskaya also won in Beijing while Sebestyen failed to qualify.
In pairs, Russia's Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin will be looking for their fourth consecutive title. Totmianina was injured in a fall at Skate America last October, sprawled unconscious on the ice and forced to spend days in the hospital. The two came back to win the Russian national championships this month.
The ice dance title is also held by Russians, with world champions Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov looking for another victory. They could be challenged by Bulgarians Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviyski, who handed them their only defeat in two years at the NHK Trophy in November.
The championships begin Tuesday with the ice dance compulsory and pairs short program. The first final is the pairs Wednesday night. The women's final Saturday concludes the championships.
MAIER WINS SUPER-G: On the World Cup's most treacherous course, Hermann Maier edged a bruised and aching Daron Rahlves by 0.02 seconds Monday in Kitzbuhel, Austria, to win a super giant slalom and end a 10-month victory drought. Maier replaced Bode Miller atop the super-G standings. Miller, the overall World Cup leader, shared fifth place. Maier's Austrian teammate, Fritz Strobl, was third.
Maier raced down the Streifalm course in 1 minute, 22.39 seconds for his first victory this season. He had won the super-G each of the three times he skied this slope until Rahlves beat him by 0.03 seconds last year.
"It's always great to win here on the Austrian mountain," said Maier, who skied in a circle after his race and pointed his right index finger to signal he was No. 1 again. "I knew Daron was one of the favorites. Coming back after two weeks off after he hurt himself, I knew he would be very motivated."
Rahlves, who has 10 World Cup victories and finished fifth in last year's overall standings, is still recovering from a somersaulting spill two weeks ago during a giant slalom in Adelboden, Switzerland. The American arrived in Kitzbuehel unsure if he could race.
"I guess it was payback this year," Rahlves said. "But for me it's like a victory. It was a close race and I feel really good about that. It's my first race back and I haven't been doing much skiing, so I wasn't as sharp as usual."
Strobl was third in 1:22.93, and Switzerland's Didier Defago was fourth in 1:23.02. Miller and Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal followed in 1:23.06. Austria's Benjamin Raich, Miller's main challenger for the overall crown, was seventh.
"It's frustrating to ski so badly and finish so close," Miller said. "I put down 15 seconds of good skiing in a minute-and-20-second-long super-G and still finished fifth. You've got to be happy with that."
Maier has four super-G wins at the venue, including a comeback victory just five races after returning from a motorcycle accident in which he nearly lost his leg. He also won the downhill on the slope in 2001. He skipped the Lauberhorn downhill in Wengen, Switzerland, last week.
Maier struggled after switching brands of ski boots and faced scorching criticism from media and fans during his stretch without a victory.
"For me this was a big success," Maier said. "I hope to find the right adjustment but I feel I'm on my way."
Miller, watching Raich slowly chip at his overall lead, earned nine points more than the Austrian on Monday. Miller is first with 1,093 points, 175 ahead of Raich. Maier, the defending overall champion, climbed to third with 730.
Maier leads the super-G rankings with 292 points. Miller is second at 275 and Michael Walchhofer, 11th on Monday, is third at 184.
Bad weather wiped out Friday's super-G and Saturday's downhill on this course. That gave Rahlves an extra few days to recuperate when the super-G was rescheduled for Monday.
"I was a bit uncertain coming into this morning," Rahlves said. "My left lower leg is still painful."
REYNA OUT FOR QUALIFIER: U.S. captain Claudio Reyna will miss next month's World Cup qualifier at Trinidad and Tobago due to a leg injury that has sidelined him since November. Reyna has played just once since Sept. 18. After injuring his leg during practice with Manchester City of England's Premier League, he came back Nov. 13 and played the final 25 minutes against Blackburn but injured the leg again.
The Americans open the final round of World Cup qualifying on Feb. 9 at Trinidad and Tobago, then play March 27 at Mexico and March 30 against Guatemala at Birmingham, Ala.
Reyna said the injury finally has healed.
"The Trinidad game would be too soon," he said Monday during a telephone interview. "I just need to concentrate on getting fit for Man City at the moment. I hope by the end of this week and into the weekend to start training with the team with the eye of being available for upcoming games."
Reyna, who was treated by German team physician Dr. Hans-Willhelm Mueller-Wohlfahrt, was pleased that the U.S. players' association reached an interim agreement Friday with the U.S. Soccer Federation that ended management's lockout. Under the deal, labor peace is assured through December, although a collective bargaining agreement remains to be negotiated.
"It's nice to have that behind us now. The players are looking forward to just playing," he said. "It's something we believe strongly in. The only thing we were thinking about is getting to the World Cup, but it's also about being respected as well and making sure we get rewarded fairly."
CHINA PUNISHES ATHLETES: China punished 17 athletes last year for using performance-enhancing drugs, imposing penalties that ranged from fines to competition bans of up to two years, the government said Monday. China carried out 4,003 drug tests on athletes in 2004.
China, the host of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, publicizes such anti-doping enforcement in an effort to restore a reputation battered by drug scandals in the 1990s.
The list of athletes punished last year included no prominent names. There were five body builders, four weightlifters, three from track and field, two from soccer and one each from wrestling, shooting and cycling, according to Xinhua.
CLARETT WILL PLAY: Maurice Clarett will join seven other NFL prospects in the College Football All-Star Challenge. The field also features 2003 Heisman Trophy winner Jason White, Michigan star receiver Braylon Edwards and California quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Auburn's Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, Georgia quarterback David Green, Oklahoma receiver Mark Clayton and Purdue quarterback Kyle Orton round out the competition.
The eight players will be put through tests measuring agility, accuracy, speed and strength. Former participants include Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper and Edgerrin James. The challenge takes place Jan. 31 at Dolphins Stadium in Miami and will air Feb. 5 on Fox.