More than a hundred top figure skaters from over 30 countries will be competing at the European figure skating championships in the Swiss city of Lausanne this week.
Even without injured world champion Evgeny Plushenko and reigning pairs champions Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, the Russian team are expected once again to be the strongest at the event.
Former world champion Alexei Yagudin will be looking to benefit from Plushenko's absence at the Lausanne event, which offers the competitors an important final warm-up before last month's Winter Olympics.
With the Russian team also boasting defending European women's champion Irina Slutskaya, her 29-year-old rival Maria Butyrskaya and former pairs gold medallists Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov, only the ice dance competition is likely to offer a break in the Russian domination with France's Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat expected to battle for top honours against defending Italian champions Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio.
Swiss chasing Olympic places
For the Swiss skaters involved, the European championships are more about Olympic selection than the fight for medals. Looking to follow up on her fifth place finish last year, 17-year-old Sarah Meier needs to reach the top ten in Lausanne to make sure of a place at Salt Lake City.
After missing out on the national championships through injury, Meier has been back in training since Christmas and says she is fully ready for competition.
"I never thought things would go so well so quickly," said Meier shortly before the start of the championships. The lutz, the flip and all the jumps I had the most problems with before are now the best parts of my routine."
In the men's event Swiss rivals Stéphane Lambiel and Patrick Meier both need to make it into at least the top12 in Lausanne, while sister-brother team Eliane and Daniel Hugentobler are expected to easily book their Olympic berth by finishing in the top 15 in the ice dance.
swissinfo with agencies
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