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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.

Martina Hingis loses another Olympic doubles partner

Martina Hingis, Belinda Bencic
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Martina Hingis‘ Olympic return is off to a rough start, and the Games are still nine days away.

Hingis, the five-time Grand Slam singles champion who is set to go 20 years between Olympic appearances, has lost her slated doubles and mixed doubles partners on consecutive days. Hingis is not playing singles in Rio.

Belinda Bencic became the fourth female tennis player ranked in the top 20, and the second Swiss player of either gender in as many days, to withdraw from the Olympics on Wednesday.

Bencic, a 19-year-old ranked No. 16, is behind in training following a wrist injury suffered at Wimbledon last month, according to her social media.

On Tuesday, Roger Federer withdrew from the Olympics, citing a knee injury.

Whether Hingis will play with another partner hasn’t been announced.

Women’s top 20 players out of the Olympics
No. 5 Simona Halep (Zika concern)
No. 7 Victoria Azarenka (Pregnancy)
No. 17 Karolina Pliskova (Zika concern)

MORE: Complete U.S. Olympic team roster

Bubba Watson, U.S. golfers get pep talk from Olympic legend Dan Jansen

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The world’s best golfers are in Springfield, N.J., this week for the season’s final major, the PGA Championship, which was pushed up a couple weeks to accommodate golf’s return to the Olympics.

The four men set to represent the U.S. – Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar – attended an Olympic meeting, where they were able to try on their Team USA gear and speak with an Olympic legend, speed skater Dan Jansen. Watson left inspired.

“He’s a legend; he’s a legend for America,” Watson said. “Some of the things that he battled, he talked about what he battled. Not just winning. Who cares about winning a medal. Just what he battled trying to get there, what he battled in family life and things like that. It was pretty amazing to hear his stories and how he came through it.”

Jansen won a 1,000m speed skating gold medal at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, the shining moment in a career that had previously been defined by disappointment. He finished fourth in the 500m in 1984, and fell in both the 500m and 1,000m in 1988. Those mishaps came after he learned of the death of his sister, Jane, who died of leukemia the morning of the 500m final.

He just missed a medal again with a fourth-place result in the 500m in 1992, where he finished 26th in the 1,000m. Two years later, after the Winter Games shifted to be in even years not coinciding with the Summer Games, Jansen placed eighth in the 500m. But in the final event of his Olympic career, he set a 1,000m world record en route to his first and only Olympic medal.

You can see more of Jansen’s story here.

Jansen acknowledged that the golfers didn’t grow up dreaming about playing golf in the Olympics since it wasn’t in the program until recently. But now that they’re going, they’re representing their country just like everyone else on Team USA.

“All four of us are pretty passionate about it,” Watson said. “Any time you can play and represent your country to that level; obviously we represent our country this week, but to that level, a higher level, it’s pretty special.”

Watson reiterated his stance on having no reservations about going to the Rio Games, while the top four golfers in the world, and many others, pulled out, mostly due to concerns over the Zika virus.

“I mean, if they would have asked me to be the towel boy, I would have went to the Olympics. But again, my situation is different than everybody else’s. I can’t have kids. We adopted our kids and I’m not fearful of crime or anything like that. So there was no fear at all. It was a go,” he said.

The U.S. golfers are getting their custom USA gear ready:

MORE: Bubba Watson gets a jetpack to fly around the golf course