Originally created 03/18/03

Defending champ drops out of World Figure Skating Championships



Russia's Irina Slutskaya will not defend her title at next week's World Figure Skating Championships, withdrawing because of her mother's kidney illness, a source close to the skater said.

The Russian skating federation would make the official announcement later Monday or Tuesday, the source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press. The federation also will make a substitution for Slutskaya at that time.

Both the International Skating Union, which sanctions the world championships, and U.S. organizers of the event were awaiting word from the Russian federation.

The Russian federation updated its Web site to list Lyudmila Nelidina as a replacement for Slutskaya at the worlds. Earlier, the federation said it could not confirm Slutskaya's withdrawal. A call to the federation was not answered.

Slutskaya's mother, Natalia, is on dialysis, and the skater has spent much of her time recently with her mother.

"There has not been time to prepare," the source quoted Slutskaya as saying.

Slutskaya's withdrawal strengthens the possibility of a U.S. women's sweep of the medals at worlds in Washington. The event begins next Monday, with the women's qualifying scheduled for March 26.

Four-time world champion and seven-time U.S. winner Michelle Kwan is the favorite. Olympic gold medalist Sarah Hughes and Sasha Cohen, the most successful skater on this season's Grand Prix tour, also are on the American team.

"The American girls are good competitors and it's a good fight," Slutskaya said earlier this month. "It is competition and somebody must win and somebody must lose."

A year ago, after finishing second to Hughes at Salt Lake City, Slutskaya won her first world title. She said it was the culmination of a lifelong dream.

"Can you imagine if you dream about some title all your life, and after you get it," she said. "It is really important. I feel really comfortable inside myself because I was dreaming since I was 6 or 7 to have this medal, to be the world champion."

Ever since, Slutskaya has struggled in competition. She had bronchitis in the fall and even was hospitalized, missing nearly a month of training.

She performed poorly at Russian nationals, then rallied from a bad start to win Europeans. But she was beaten by Cohen in the Grand Prix final, where Slutskaya was distracted by her mother's illness.