Plushenko marks his territory with gold

By Sonia Oxley

TALLINN (Reuters) - Yevgeny Plushenko kissed the ice after showing his rivals he has no intention of giving up his Olympic crown next month by easily winning gold at the European figure skating championships on Thursday.

The two skaters making their comebacks after absences from the sport beat those who had been keeping the podium warm for them with Switzerland's popular Stephane Lambiel taking the silver when his mesmerizing spins lifted him up from fifth.

Last year's champion Brian Joubert of France took bronze after an error-strewn routine. Plushenko scored 255.39 points, with Lambiel on 238.54 and Joubert on 236.45.

"I am just really proud, everything went well. Of course the most important competition this year will be the Olympic Games," Plushenko, whose last major competition had been the 2006 Turin Games, said in a rinkside interview.

Lambiel, who has come out of retirement, got a standing ovation after his delightfully presented routine to Verdi's La Traviata, with fans whooping when they saw he had scored enough despite slipping on to his bottom during a simple step sequence.


Ice dancers Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin wore loin cloths and leaves to help extend their lead with a dance that has offended Australian Aboriginal elders.

The Russian world champions were surprised to learn elders had accused them of stealing an Aboriginal dance idea and causing serious cultural offence.

"We didn't know anything about it," a wide-eyed Domnina told reporters after scoring 61.49 points for the original dance, taking their total after two dances to 104.27 with Friday's free dance still to come.

The Russians had led by just under five points following Tuesday's compulsory dance and they have increased it slightly to lead Italy's Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali (99.15). Russia's Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski are third (96.46).

Shabalin said they had done their homework but had never intended it to be an authentic Australian Aboriginal dance.

"We researched a lot of information on the Internet. It's just from many thousands of years ago and it wasn't our goal (to be authentic)," he said.

Sol Bellear of the New South Wales state Aboriginal Land Council told Reuters earlier on Thursday: "It's very offensive. We see it as stealing Aboriginal culture and it is yet another example of the Aboriginal people of Australia being exploited."

Before the ice dance medals are decided on Friday, the women's event gets underway with the short program.

(Editing by Alison Wildey)