Carolina Kostner closing in on elusive Olympic medal

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SOCHI, Russia – Four years ago, Carolina Kostner left the Vancouver ice after her free skate with her head clutched between her arms, barely able to stand after delivering what she herself might tell you was the worst performance of her life.

Thursday night in Sochi she could win an Olympic medal.

At 27, the Italian delivered a stirring performance Wednesday in the short program of the ladies’ singles event, skating to “Ave Maria” and equaling the music with her beauty across the ice.

“After Vancouver I thought that was it,” said Kostner, who sits in third place, less than a point from first. “I thought I would stop skating. I thought that was my end.”

One of the oldest skaters still competing on the international level, Kostner performed with the kind of steadied grace that only a veteran can possess. Long known as a soft and emotive skater, Kostner was her vintage self and poised in delivery.”

“I wanted to skate because I love it,” she said of why she decided to continue after Vancouver. “The hard times make you understand what you really want and I’m really glad that I continued and honored to have experienced everything that I have in the past years.”

After placing ninth at the Torino Games, Kostner plummeted to 16th in Vancouver, but chose to skate on, winning the World Championships in 2012 and tacking on two more European and National Championship titles.

She skated after Yulia Lipnitskaya Wednesday night at the Sochi Games in an arena that was meant to be bursting with applause for the 15-year-old. Yet, after a surprising fall from the Russian, Carolina began to crickets, moving with building heart.

Skating in a sparkling, layered white and silver dress, Kostner came through in the exact opposite way that she fell apart in Vancouver, moving the audience with her fluid performance.

“Stunning,” said two-time Olympian Johnny Weir, a commentator for NBC Sports.

“So long we have been thinking of Carolina as the artist,” added 1998 Olympic champion Tara Lipinski, also a NBC Sports commentator, “but her technique; she took everything down a grade and then built it back up these last four years. That was the whole package. ”

It’s a far cry from where she was days after Vancouver.

“I just believed that that was my limit,” Kostner remembered. “But something just told me that it’s not about the result, it’s about the personal experience, that is what is most important.”

Kostner didn’t have a convincing season. After failing to advance to the Grand Prix Final, she skipped the Italian Nationals and set about re-tooling both her programs, changing them with the Olympics in mind.

“When I was in my beginning position, I was scared out of my mind,” Kostner said, smiling. “I don’t know, it just came together. Skating isn’t about the medals or the results. I love what I do. It’s much more fun to win, but you cannot every time.”

If anything, Kostner only hopes for a performance better than what she put out in Vancouver four years ago. What’s the best way she can approach her Sochi free skate?

“To not think about it,” she said.

Laurie Hernandez eyes return to competition in 2018

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NEW YORK – Laurie Hernandez hardly considers her 14 months away from competitive gymnastics a break.

Since earning Olympic team gold and balance beam silver in Rio, the 17-year-old won “Dancing with the Stars,” authored a book and even enrolled in ballet lessons.

But her most rewarding experience has been speaking at schools. Students have asked her seemingly every question, from when she started taking gymnastics classes (age 5) to whether she climbed trees when she was younger (yes, all the time).

Seeing how many children were inspired by her Rio performance motivated Hernandez as she prepares to return to the sport.

“I didn’t realize at the Olympics how many people were truly watching,” Hernandez said Wednesday night at the annual Women’s Sports Foundation Salute to Women in Sports. “Now I’m excited to get back into the gym.”

Hernandez recently added handstand holds, back tucks and front flips to her conditioning program, in addition to continuing to run and lift weights.

“It’s a little difficult, but it’s fine,” she said. “I’ll push it a little more after the holidays.”

She has her eye on returning to competition in 2018.

“That’s definitely the hope,” Hernandez said. “I’m not going to rush anything, but I would love to compete in 2018.”

Hernandez, who said her next goal in gymnastics is to compete at the world championships for the first time and hopefully the 2020 Olympics, has not yet identified her comeback meet.

She noted that Aly Raisman took more than two years off after the London Olympics.

“I know every athlete is different,” Hernandez said. “But I wouldn’t mind following in her footsteps.”

Simone Biles, who has not competed since winning four gold medals in Rio, recently announced that she plans on returning to full-time training Nov. 1 and competition next summer.

“I look up to her, even though we are teammates,” Hernandez said. “I can’t wait to see her out there, but hopefully I’ll be out there with her soon.”

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Olympic cycling champion running for Congress

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Olympic cycling gold medalist Marty Nothstein is the latest to announce he’s running for the eastern Pennsylvania congressional seat being vacated by fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Dent.

Dent, a former state senator, is a centrist Republican who has held the seat since 2005. He’s retiring after his term expires next year.

Nothstein, who won sprint silver in 1996 and gold in 2000, is the only American track cyclist to win an Olympic title at a fully attended Games.

Two Republican state representatives, Ryan Mackenzie and Justin Simmons, previously announced they’re running for Dent’s 15th District seat.

Democrat Bill Leiner, a former Lehigh County commissioner, is also running.

Dent’s district includes Allentown and all of Lehigh County, and parts of four surrounding counties.

Republicans in 2011 stretched the district almost 90 miles to the Susquehanna River in central Pennsylvania to make it more Republican.

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