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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yagudin Delivers in Europeans

VIENNA, Austria -- A broken hand couldn't stop Alexei Yagudin from delivering a strong statement to his Russian rival at the European Figure Skating Championships on Monday.

The message to Yevgeny Plushchenko was simple - It will not be easy to take Yagudin's European title.

Yagudin began his defense with an easy qualifying win in his group and led Russians to top positions in the men's and pair's event.

Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov led the pairs event after the short program with another Russian couple second.

Yagudin has not skated competitively for more than a month, and he has been plagued by problems on and off the ice. He lost at the Russian championships to Plushchenko and had boot and foot problems that kept him out of the Grand Prix finals last month. He was also kicked off an exhibition tour for inappropriate behavior linked to drinking, and was given a suspended one-year sentence by the Russian Skating Federation with a promise of tougher sanctions if he transgressed again.

Yet Monday, Yagudin, who has won the European and world title the last two years, was impressive in taking his group while Plushchenko took the other group with mistakes.

Yagudin broke a bone in his right hand in January while training in Moscow. He skated with a soft cast but still opened his program with an easy quadruple jump and added six triples.

The two-time European and world champion's technical merit marks ranged from 5.6 to 5.8. But he received four impressive 5.9s for artistic impression for his routine to a song from the movie "Broken Arrow."

"I didn't do any spins before coming here. The jumps are probably fine with this hand but with the spins, it hurts," he said. "I think in the future, it will not be a problem."

His only major mistake was a stumble while trying to throw in a triple lutz.

"The reason I missed was I didn't have a lutz in that place. I changed my program after the first quad," Yagudin said. "When you change your program so quickly, you can make mistakes."

Yagudin said he hurt his hand when he slammed into a board while doing crossovers and then dislocated it during rehabilitation.

Fellow Russian Alexander Abt was second in the group, and Frenchman Vincent Restencourt was third.

The second men's group had Plushchenko winning, but he did not look as good, especially when falling on his quad attempt.

Plushchenko had been consistent throughout the season, landing a quad-triple-double combination in the last three events.

He did six triples but was awarded scores slightly lower than Yagudin for technical merit, mostly 5.7s

Second behind Plushchenko was former European champion Dmitri Dmitrenko of Ukraine, and third was Ivan Dinev of Bulgaria.

The top 15 in each group advanced to Tuesday's short program with the final on Thursday.

In the pairs short program, worth one third of the total score, Petrova and Tikhonov were nearly perfect in their routine of required elements to Tchaikovsky music. Superb side-by-side triple toe loops helped earn them scores mostly between the 5.7 to 5.9 range.

Petrova and Tikhonov were surprise winners at the Europeans last year.

"We felt some pressure and this made it harder for us," Tikhonov said.

World champions Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze were second, a slight touch-down on the triple jump by her kept them from being first, although they did get two first place votes from the nine-judge panel.

"I'm not so pleased because I did the mistake on the triple toe," Berezhnaya said. "But compared to the short program in other competitions, it was still better."

Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze have struggled throughout the season, coming in third in Skate America and the Grand Prix final.

Dorota Zagorska and Marius Siudek and Germany's Peggy Schwarz and Mirko Muller followed the two Russian pairs in the standings.

The pairs free program takes place Wednesday.

Russians have won every title at the Europeans over the past three years, sweeping the men's and women's events last year.