Torino Olympian and 2006 world champion Kimmie Meissner is working as a researcher for NBC Olympics during the Sochi Games. Here, her take on what struck her most from the ladies’ competition.
Looking at the ladies event Thursday night, one of my favorite moments came from Carolina Kostner, a veteran competing in her third Olympics. She has always been one of the most exquisite skaters on the ice, using her long arms and legs to create stunning lines, as well as her picturesque jumps. But skating aside, Carolina earned my admiration off the ice by being genuine and thoughtful to all of her fellow competitors, regardless of the outcome, which can be a rarity in such an individualized sport.
I competed alongside Carolina at the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy and didn’t know she had skated an underwhelming program until after everything was all over. Watching the event on Italian television back in the village, the look of shock and disappointment on her face has stayed with me to this day.
Perhaps one reason why this moment struck me was because I had seen Carolina before competing myself. She was on her way out of the locker room and stopped to wish me luck, pulling me in for a hug. If I would have looked closer, maybe I could have seen her disappointment, but I was too excited about my own impending competition.
Her track record is spastic: full of moments that you would expect from a skater like herself and other placements that just make no sense. Sometimes the Carolina who won five European Championships shows up and at other times the Carolina who imploded and placed sixteenth in Vancouver does. You just never know.
The pressure of competition affects everyone differently and there is nothing like the pressure of skating in a Winter Olympic Games. You’ve finally reached the pinnacle of sport, most likely the culmination of a lifetime worth of sacrifice, and have trained specifically for just over six minutes to define your career.
In Torino for Carolina, add in the hometown audience on top of regular Olympic pressure. It’s stifling and terrifying, but also exhilarating and desirable. You want so badly to excel for your country and feel a burning desperation to achieve this. It’s quite the task to shoulder your expectations plus those of an entire country. These were the obstacles Carolina had to face eight years ago in Torino and unfortunately could not overcome.
She suffered a similar mental block in Vancouver and only landed one clean triple, breaking down after the free skate. As a skater, this is the moment of truth. Either commit for another four years or move on and – trust me! – the idea of not competing can be daunting instead of welcoming.
Ultimately, Carolina decided to stay and now finds herself with an Olympic bronze medal, finally able to embrace the pressure of the Olympics and greet it like an old friend. As for those of us who got to witness her earn Italy their first ladies figure skating medal, it is quiet confirmation of what we already knew.