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Alastair Grant, Associated Press
Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres of France perform in the pairs short program competition at the European Figure Skating Championships in Sheffield, England, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012.

SHEFFIELD, England — Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov took advantage of the late withdrawal of their main rivals to lead the pairs competition after the short program at the European figure skating championships on Wednesday.

The highly rated Russian couple scored a season-best 72.80 points in a near-flawless routine to lead by nearly six points as one of the emerging pairs seek their first major title.

Russians swept the podium positions ahead of Thursday's free skate, with Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov second with 66.89 points. Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov are third with 58.66.

Aliona Savchenko aggravated an injury to her left thigh in training on Wednesday, robbing her of the chance to defend the title with German partner Robin Szolkowy.

As triple world champions, four-time European winners and the only Olympic medalists in the field, the Germans were widely regarded as favorites. But in performing a pair spin hours before the start of the short program, Savchenko aggravated her injury from a fall on a throw jump in practice Jan. 12 in Germany.

Volosozhar and Trankov, who finished behind the Germans in the worlds and the Grand Prix final last year, didn't waste their opportunity.

In a fluid, energetic program set to the chilled strains of Evanescence's "Bring Me Back To Life," the only error came on the throw triple flip when the 25-year-old Volosozhar — formerly of Ukraine and head to toe in black, like her older partner — touched the ice with both hands to correct her landing.

They still beat their previous best in the segment this season by 1.23 points, topping both technical marks and program components in a three-minute package of elegance at the half-full Motorpoint Arena.

The compatriots of Volosozhar and Trankov also scored season-best marks to set up a potential Russian 1-2-3.

Bazarova and Larionov, the bronze medalists at last year's Europeans in Bern, Switzerland, were graceful and smooth as they performed to "Tosca" by Giacomo Puccini in the final act of the segment.

Despite not even the slightest hint of a wobble, they still failed to overtake Volosozhar and Trankov, who performed a more difficult routine.

The short-dance segment in the ice dance is later Wednesday.