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.

Ashley Wagner tops Skate America short program

ST PAUL, MN - JANUARY 21: Ashley Wagner competes in the Ladies' Short Program at the 2016 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championship on January 21, 2016 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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Ashley Wagner picked up from where she left off last season, topping the Skate America short program Friday night.

Wagner, the world championships silver medalist, tallied 69.50 points in the Grand Prix opener, landing all of her jumps in Hoffman Estates, Ill. She leads Japan’s Mai Mihara, who scored 65.75.

“There were a couple of things that weren’t quite perfect,” Wagner told media.

U.S. champion Gracie Gold fell on a triple flip. She’s in third place with 64.87. Full results are here.

“I had a hiccup on the triple flip,” Gold said. “Overall, it felt really good.”

Japan’s Mao Asada, a three-time world champion, was fifth after performing a triple-double jump combination rather than a triple-triple.

The free skate is Saturday, live on NBC and the NBC Sports app at 4:30 p.m. ET (full broadcast schedule here).

The last U.S. woman to win Skate America was Wagner in 2012.

Wagner and Gold are competing in their first full individual competitions since April’s world championships, when Gold fell from first after the short program to finish fourth.

Wagner climbed from fourth after the worlds short program to finish second and end a 10-year U.S. women’s podium drought at the Olympics and world championships.

MORE: Scott Hamilton diagnosed with brain tumor for third time

Scott Hamilton diagnosed with brain tumor for third time

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 03:  Former figure skater and Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton onstage during A Capitol Fourth - Rehearsals at U.S. Capitol, West Lawn, on July 3, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Capital Concerts)
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Olympic figure skating champion Scott Hamilton said he was diagnosed with a benign pituitary brain tumor for a third time.

Hamilton, who took gold in Sarajevo in 1984, underwent chemotherapy to treat testicular cancer in 1997 and was twice previously diagnosed with brain tumors and had surgery, in 2004 and 2010.

“I didn’t have any symptoms, I just went in for my normal check-up, and they found the beginnings of the brain tumor coming back,” the 58-year-old Hamilton said. “I have a unique hobby of collecting life-threatening illness. … It’s six years later, and it decided that it wanted an encore.”

From People magazine:

Hamilton learned of the tumor at a routine check-up and is currently exploring all his treatment options before symptoms begin presenting.

“I’ll tell anybody that will listen: If you’re ever facing anything, get as many diagnoses as you possibly can,” he says. “The more you truly understand what you’re up against, the better decision you’re going to make.”

Hamilton was in New York on Friday to promote U.S. Figure Skating’s “Get Up” campaign.

“It’s all about shrugging it off, whatever’s going on, whether it be bullying at school, whether it be a setback in health, you just get up,” Hamilton said. “Not only to bring the young people that love skating together, but to bring the broader population into the fold.”

Hamilton said that surviving cancer was the moment in his life that he most associated with the “Get Up” campaign.

“Chemotherapy for months was devastating, but it’s endurable,” Hamilton said. “I don’t want to scare anybody from being treated for cancer, because I’m here, 20 years later, but the surgery afterwards was 38 staples, and I’m a little person. Getting up, getting back on the ice and performing again, quickly, was kind of my ‘Get Up’ moment.”

MORE: 2016-17 figure skating season broadcast schedule