Butyrskaya Tops Kwan for World Title

HELSINKI, Finland -- The cards were seemingly stacked against them, but in the end, Russian figure skaters trumped all the world's aces when they took all four gold medals at the World Championships at Hartwall Arena.

The difference came in the form of Maria Butyrskaya, a late bloomer who turned the tables on the United States' two-time world champion Michelle Kwan to become the first Russian woman world champion while completing Russia's sweep.

When asked about her age, the 26-year-old Butyrskaya shoots from the hip, a trait many of her adolescent competitors do not possess.

"I got better and better with time. I had good results. I work very hard, I think I skate very well and like a woman, I can do all the difficult jumps, and I learned to cope with nervousness. I have proved all of this and today I proved that I am the best skater in the world," Butyrskaya said.

Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze repeated as gold medalists in pairs on Wednesday, Alexei Yagudin repeated as world men's champion Thursday, and Anjelika Krylova and Oleg Ovsyannikov repeated as world ice dancing champions on Friday to set the stage for the sweep. Yevgeny Plushenko, 16, won the men's silver and Julia Soldatova, 18, took bronze in the ladies.

"We planned to take two [gold] medals, but we didn't know what to expect from Michelle Kwan. But when we came here, we saw that she wasn't in her best form and we knew there was a real [possibility] to win here because Maria was in good form," said Butyrskaya's coach, Yelena Tchaikovskaya, after the event.

Kwan, who opted to skate Pro-Am and tours this year instead of the International Skating Union's Grand Prix circuit, struggled in practices and had to climb up from fourth place before taking the silver medal.

Kwan had won her 10 consecutive events going back to the 1998 world championships, while Butyrskaya had a history of wilting under the stress of high-pressure events.

But performing first on Saturday, Butyrskaya skated superbly, hitting all of her jumps and locking up first place before Kwan could hit the ice.

The victory marks Butyrskaya as the oldest woman ever to win the Ladies event, beating out Britain's Madge Syers, who was 26 when she won in 1907.

For much of the weeklong event, the Russians were fighting not only the competitors, but popular opinion.

Krylova and Ovsyannikov found themselves in the now familiar role of defending themselves against the crowd and media, who vocally favored the French team of Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat.

The win was Russia's seventh consecutive gold in ice dance, and eighth if the 1992 Commonwealth of Independent States team is included.

Also over the weekend, Ukraine judge Alfred Korytek and Russian coach Sviatoslav Babenko were suspended with immediate effect from refereeing or judging ISU Championship or international events.

The two were caught by a Canadian television crew in apparent collusion while judging the pairs final Wednesday. They were sitting next to each other, and, while it did not affect medal placements, they were banned Sunday by the ISU technical committee from judging events.

The length of the suspensions was expected to be at least a year.