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Joubert gives France European gold


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BUDAPEST, Hungary (Reuters) -- Brian Joubert became the first Frenchman in 40 years to be crowned European men's champion after an exhilarating final free programme.

Russian world champion and three-times European winner Yevgeny Plushenko paid the price for two errors and had to settle for silver, ahead of compatriot Ilia Klimkin in third.

Joubert's win, the first French triumph since Alain Calmat took three straight golds in 1962-64, broke Russia's dominance of European figure skating.

Russians have won the men's title in nine of the last 10 years, and the national team was looking to sweep all four medals at this European championships for the fifth time in eight years.

On Wednesday, Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin struck pairs gold for a third straight year, finishing ahead of 1999 and 2000 champions Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov.

Russia's Elena Sokolova, last year's runner-up, is favorite to win the ladies' competition which opens with the short programme on Friday.

Earlier on Thursday, 2003 bronze medalists Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov cruised through the original programme to extend their lead ahead of Friday's ice dance final.

Skating to the 'Matrix' theme, Joubert put in a near flawless performance, with crisp, clean jumps and fluid movement. He earned scores of 5.7 to 5.9 for technical merit and 5.5 to 5.8 for presentation.

The 19-year-old, who trains with Olympic and three-times European champion Alexei Yagudin, was second a year ago.


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