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.

Alina Zagitova is OAR’s first gold medalist of PyeongChang

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15-year-old Alina Zagitova won the first gold medal for the Olympic Athletes from Russia on Thursday night in the ladies’ free skate in PyeongChang.

Yevgenia Medvedeva, her training partner and the two-time world champion, earned silver by a margin of 1.31 points. That’s the exact margin Zagitova led Medvedeva by after the short program on Tuesday.

This marks the first time two women from the same country have shared the ladies’ figure skating podium since Tara Lipinski and Michelle Kwan in 1998. Speaking of Lipinski – Zagitova is less than a month older than Lipinski was when she won gold in Nagano, and Zagitova is now the second-youngest individual ladies’ Olympic champion in history.

Kaetlyn Osmond earned bronze – Canada’s first Olympic medal in ladies’ figure skating since 2010.

Results

Gold: Alina Zagitova (OAR)

Silver: Yevgenia Medvedeva (OAR)

Bronze: Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN)

9. Bradie Tennell (USA)

10. Mirai Nagasu (USA)

11. Karen Chen (USA)

Click here to read the full recap and watch highlights from the ladies’ free skate program

Serwa, Phelan continue Canada’s dominance of women’s ski cross

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Canadian skiers Kelsey Serwa and Brittany Phelan took the top spots in women’s ski cross at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, giving Canada its third consecutive gold medal in this event.

Switzerland’s Fanny Smith edged out Sweden’s Sandra Naeslund in the big final to claim the final spot on the podium.

Read the rest of the story and watch video at NBCOlympics.com