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Russian Skaters Favorites at Beijing's Grand Prix Finals

The International Skating Union's Grand Prix Finals get underway in Beijing, China Friday, with Russian figure skaters Yevgeny Plushenko and Irina Slutskaya the favorites to capture the singles titles.

Plushenko did not want to compete on the Grand Prix Circuit this season, but a victory in the Cup of Russia was enough to earn him a place in the finals. The Olympic silver medalist has won the Grand Prix finals three times before.

Slutskaya was injured in September, but was able to come back and win the Cup of China and the Cup of Russia. She will not have to face top Americans Michelle Kwan or Sasha Cohen. Kwan did not compete in the Grand Prix events and Cohen is out with an injury.

Chinese fans are sure to have their eyes on two-time world champions Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo in the pairs competition. Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov of Russia are their nearest challengers.

The ice-dancing event is the only competition with all the skaters back from last year, with Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov of Russia the top qualifiers.

The short programs and original dance are Friday with the free programs Saturday.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and AP.