Russia's Sotnikova, Lipnitskaia battle for European title
Russia's Adelina Sotnikova performs during the ladies short program on first day of the ISU European Figure Skating Championship at the SYMA hall in Budapest, Hungary on January 15, 2014
Just three weeks before their home Winter Games in Sochi, four-time national champion Sotnikova, 17, gave a dazzling performance to Bizet's 'Carmen' to grab the lead with 70.73 points as she bids to become the first Russian to win the continental title since Irina Slutskaya in 2006.
The pressure is mounting as the elite European skaters fine-tune their routines to challenge defending Olympic champion Kim Yu-Na of South Korea and silver medallist Mao Asada of Japan, for the gold medal which has eluded the continent's women since Oksana Baiul of Ukraine triumphed in 1994 at Lillehammer.
Wearing red, Sotnikova, who won her first national senior level title at age 12, punched the air in delight after her performance which included an opening triple-triple toe-loop combination, followed by a triple flip and a double axel.
But Lipnitskaia, second to Sotnikova at the Russian championships last month, is just 0.76 points behind going into Friday's free skating final as she drew hearts in the ice during her routine "You Don't Give Up On Love" by Mark Minkov which proved a hit.
The 15-year-old scored highest technically with a triple lutz-triple toeloop combination and a double axel and double flip jump, but lost out for programme components which include choreography, to earn 69.97 overall.
"I'm pleased with my short programme since my practice hasn't been going well," said Lipnitskaia. "I was able to pull myself together and skate well.
"Of course it would be great if I could go to the Olympic Games but you just have to go out and do what you can."
Both Sotnikova and Lipnitskaia are bidding to compete in their first Olympics.
"The Russian team will be finalised only after Europeans," explained Sotnikova.
"This competition doesn't mean any additional pressure but it does give another opportunity to test myself and my elements and hopefully I'll be going to the Olympic Games."
Russia could complete a podium sweep in the women's event in Budapest for the first time since 2002 with Alena Leonova sitting fourth behind former world champion Carolina Kostner of Italy.
Kostner, a five-time European champion, performed strongly despite missing nationals because of health problems, and is just 1.84 behind the leader with 68.97, with Leonova, the 2012 world silver medallist, fourth on 64.09.
"I have problems with a pain in my back and I also have headaches. I still do. You just try to do your best, to focus, and try not to think about it," said the 26-year-old, who gave a flawless presentation.
"Sometimes in life you surprise yourself. I didn't expect to change my short programme," explained Kostner, who put her routine to Schubert's Ave Maria together over a week in December with choreographer Lori Nichol.
"I don't know how many more programmes I'll be able to create in my life and I did that today and I'm very grateful for that."
The ice dancing competition gets underway later Wednesday with challengers including Russia's Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, as well as Italian pair Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte.
In the men's competition Spaniard Javier Fernandez opens his title defence on Thursday faced with the challenge of Russia's Maxim Kovtun.
In pairs, Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, four-time world champions and Olympic bronze medallists, will continue their duel with reigning world and European champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov of Russia starting on Friday.