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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Butyrskaya Begins Quest For Her 2nd World Title

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany -- Russian Maria Butyrskaya, who defeated Michelle Kwan at the world championships last March, was to make her season's debut in Grand Prix competition at the Nation's Cup, which began Friday as the lucrative skating series returned to Europe.

After Skate America and Skate Canada, the Grand Prix begins a run of three straight competitions in Europe. After Germany there is the Lalique Trophy in Paris next week and the Cup of Russia in St. Petersburg in two weeks. The NHK Trophy in Japan completes the regular series with the Grand Prix final in Lyon, France in January.

Last year Russians dominated the Grand Prix series as a prelude to a sweep of victories at both the European and world championships.

Butyrskaya, now 27, took both the European and world women's titles last season. At the worlds she became the first Russian and the oldest woman to take a singles title.

"It doesn't bother me that I was the oldest," Butyrskaya said. "As I got older I got more confident and experienced and that translated into good results."

Butyrskaya bypassed both Skate America and Skate Canada, which Kwan won.

While other Russians move quickly to the United States to live and train, Butyrskaya still has a base in Moscow.

"I never had any problems there. I have nothing to complain about," Butyrskaya said. "There are always good ice condition and enough time."

"I could not think of leaving Moscow because my family and friends are there."

At the worlds last year she was nearly perfect in both the long and short programs to win the title, while Kwan salvaged second after falling in the short program.

However, Butyrskaya's road at the Nation's Cup will not be easy. Although Nicole Bobek of the United States and Tanja Szewczenko of Germany have both withdrawn - each have won bronze medals at world championships - there are others who promise to challenge Butyrskaya.

Irina Slutskaya of Russia is a two-time European champion who is returning to form. Newly married and slimmed down, she is anxious to erase last year - where she failed to make the Russian team because of the strength of the Russian women. Even without her, the Russians went 1-2-3 in the Europeans and 1-3 in the worlds.

"There are many, many young talented girls there and the competition is really great for spots on the European and world team," Butyrskaya said.

Tatiana Malinina of Uzbekistan, the surprise winner of the Four Continents and Grand Prix final last year, is also entered. She was fourth last year in the world competition.

The men's event has another Russian, Yevgeny Plushenko, favored. Noted for his Bielmann Spin, he was second last year in both the Europeans and worlds to Russian compatriot Alexei Yagudin.

Yagudin won in Skate Canada and Skate America but is not entered here.

Guo Zhenghin of China, the only man to do quadruple jumps in the qualifying, short and long programs at the worlds, is expected to be Plushenko's top opposition.

There is a Russian-Chinese duel in the pairs event. Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov of Russia, the European champions, take on Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, who narrowly lost the world title last year.

The dance event has Canadians Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz opening their season. World champions Angelika Krylova and Oleg Ovsiannikov of Russia were entered but bowed out with her back injury. They are still questionable for the rest of the season.