Russian Skater Withdraws

Times Staff Writer

World figure skating champion Irina Slutskaya of Russia won't defend her title next week in Washington, telling friends she doesn't want to be far from the hospital where her mother is being treated for a kidney ailment.

Slutskaya's mother, Natalia, fell ill a few weeks ago during the Grand Prix Final at St. Petersburg, Russia. She is believed to be on dialysis in a clinic in St. Petersburg.

A confidant of Slutskaya who didn't want to be named said the skater's English isn't good enough to precisely describe her mother's ailment or treatment. Slutskaya lives in Moscow and has been commuting to her mother's bedside, leaving her little time to prepare for the world championships.

"She said, 'I feel so bad,' " the confidant said Monday. "She said she felt like she had to make a choice, and the choice was to stay with her mother. No one can blame her for that."

The Russian figure skating federation is scheduled to hold a news conference today to announce Slutskaya's withdrawal, but its Web site has listed Lyudmila Nelidina as Slutskaya's replacement.

In October, Nelidina and Japan's Yukari Nakano became the first female skaters in nearly a decade to land triple axels in competition. Each completed the 3 1/2-revolution jump at Skate America.

The world championships begin next Monday at the MCI Center. The women's event begins next Wednesday with the qualifying round.

Slutskaya was second to Sarah Hughes of the U.S. at the Salt Lake City Olympics and fulfilled a dream a few weeks later by winning her only world title. She has had a rocky season, finishing third and second in her two Grand Prix events and second to Elena Sokolova at the Russian championships.

Slutskaya was first after two phases of the competition at the Grand Prix Final in St. Petersburg earlier this month but wobbled in the long program and finished second to Sasha Cohen.

"I had some personal problems in the last couple of days," she said afterward, referring to her mother's illness.

Slutskaya's withdrawal from the world championships improves the chances of a U.S. sweep by Hughes, Cohen and four-time world champion Michelle Kwan.

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