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Defending Champion Russia Scratches Europeans
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Russia and several of its neighbors have been forced to withdraw from the 2010 Men's European Gymnastics Championships in Birmingham because of the volcanic ash that has grounded air travel in Europe.

Maxim Devyatovsky performs on parallel bars at the 2008 European Championships in Lausanne, where Russia won the senior team title.

The Russian Gymnastics Federation announced that its men's team, the defending senior champion from 2008, would not be able to attend. Neighbors Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and Armenia also have scratched the competition, scheduled for April 22-25.

Russia won the senior title at the 2008 Men's European Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland, defeating Germany and Romania. Belarus finished fourth and Ukraine sixth.

The European Championships organizers already have postponed the event by one day because of the travel situation. Ash from the April 14 eruption of an Icelandic volcano has blanketed the skies as far east as Kazakhstan, making it too dangerous for planes to fly safely.

Many delegations are instead making the trip by car, train and ferry, an impossibility for Russia. Moscow is three time zones and more than 1,500 miles (2,500 kilometers) from the U.K.

"We know that the Belgian team spent 11 hours traveling to Birmingham, while the Spanish national team's trip took 30 hours," Russian head coach Andrei Rodionenko said. "The European Gymnastics Union and the organizing committee along with the national federations have done everything so the teams could get to the continental championships. The UEG will not apply any sanctions against those teams who are unable to get to Birmingham."

Belarusian coach Gennady Lesiv said visa problems will prevent his gymnasts from traveling by car or train. Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Armenia and Georgia are not members of the European Union, and their citizens need visas to enter certain countries.

"The Belarusians can't go to the competition via ground transportation, as some teams have done, because not all team members have visas," Lesiv said. "Our gymnasts' visas allow them to fly to Britain, but they are not allowed to cross Europe by bus or by train. Also, finding tickets for the 20-member delegation is now virtually impossible. The problem is compounded by the fact that, when they reached Birmingham, the team runs the risk of staying there for a long time, because forecasters cannot guarantee good flight conditions at the end of April when the competition is over. The Belarusian team's financial situation doesn't allow it to stay in England for a long time."

The 2010 Junior European Championships also serve as a qualifying competition for the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. According to reports, the UEG is meeting to consider special qualifications for gymnasts unable to attend the competition in Birmingham because of the natural disaster.

Rodionenko said the Russian Gymnastics Federation and European Championships Organizing Committee are doing everything possible to ensure the Russian team will be able to travel to Birmingham for the women's competition, scheduled for April 28-May 2.

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