Ice Network

Kostner's bronze touches hearts of skating fans

Podium finish in Sochi represents a dream realized for soft-spoken Italian
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Good luck wiping the smile off Carolina Kostner's face anytime soon. -Getty Images

You could say that the medals won by each of the three ladies who stood on the podium Thursday night at the Iceberg Skating Palace were for three different -- and three very distinct -- recipients.

For Adelina Sotnikova, her gold medal was for Mother Russia, which concluded these Games with a dominating showing, with champions in three of the five figure skating events and five medals overall.

For Yu-Na Kim, her silver was for herself. It may not have been the color of medal she was hoping for, but all along she maintained she was doing this for her and her alone. It'll look just fine next to the gold she already owns.

And for Carolina Kostner, her bronze was for the devoted followers of the sport, those who have tracked her career -- one that's been filled with more highs and lows than a long-term weather forecast -- for more than a decade and for whom she epitomizes what it means to be a true artist on the ice.

You never know what you're going to get with Kostner. Equal parts brilliant and maddening, her calling cards have always been her speed and elegance, but when it came to other parts of her skating -- namely, her jumps -- it was anybody's guess which Kostner was going to show up.

"I know what it is like going through hard times, and I always wanted [to have] a good competition," Kostner said. "It's been hard work, and I have had many ups and downs." 

She had a less-than-stellar showing at her first Olympics, finishing ninth in her home country of Italy in 2006, but her debacle four years later in Vancouver -- where she came in a dreadful 16th, including an almost inconceivable 19th in the free skate -- was when she hit rock bottom.

"After Vancouver, I thought I had reached my limit. I told myself, you need to accept this is your limit," Kostner said. "I went home, I went to school, and then I started missing figure skating. I told myself, I want to go back on the ice and skate for the passion and the pleasure. That helped me not see it so seriously."

With this new mindset, Kostner underwent a career revival. She won two more European titles, bringing her career total to five, and medaled at every world championships from 2011-13, capturing her first and only world title in 2012. Despite that, she was flying under the radar when she came to Sochi, with most of the attention focused on Kim, Russian phenom Julia Lipnitskaia and Japan's Mao Asada.

She celebrated her 27th birthday the day after the Opening Ceremony, and on that same day skated an exquisite short program for Italy in the team event, helping her country qualify for the free skate portion.

Then came the ladies short program, in which she skated even better than in the team event, and after which she found herself in a virtual dead heat with Kim and Sotnikova.

That brought her to the free skate, which, for Kostner this season, has special meaning. The demure Italian, on the suggestion of choreographer Lori Nichol, picked "Bolero" as her music. Though not an original choice by any stretch, Kostner does have a personal connection to the piece, as chronicled here on icenetwork.

"As Lori first proposed it, I said, no way, how can I live up to that standard?" Kostner said. "I listened to it over and over, and I thought, this is part of my personality, that the music would help me to live it. I said, I just have to have the courage to go on with it."

Although Kostner did not have the most technically challenging free skate of the night -- she was the only skater in the last group without a planned triple-triple -- what she lacked in content, she made up for in style and an overall cleanliness in her skating. (The only element for which she received a negative grade of execution was her triple loop, and even that was just -0.1.)

Kostner is one of those rare skaters who actually interprets the music she's skating to, who's able to draw the audience in and take it along with her, to a destination. That was no more apparent than on this night, when she more than did justice to the strains Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean so famously used to capture their Olympic gold medal in Sarajevo, 30 years and one week ago to the day.

"I have nothing left. I am exhausted," Kostner said. "On the ice, it was just amazing. ... It was a dream to skate a dream competition, and it happened to be at the Olympic Games."

Kostner was seemingly preedestined to choose this line of work. Her cousin is Isolde Kostner, a three-time Olympic medalist in alpine skiing, and her father, Erwin, a hockey player who participated in the 1984 Winter Games. She also has a grandfather on her mother's side who was the director of an art academy in Italy, and she has many uncles who are artists as well.

"I think, instinctively, I chose, as a kid, the sport where I can live both strengths I have got in my genes," she said.

Her DNA has only carried her so far. The rest she has done on her own, and with the help of her longtime coach, Michael Huth, and, now, Nichol.

"It's been years of work, just learning to believe in myself, that this is my life path," Kostner said. "I go along with it, with all my heart, by myself. It has been my longtime goal."

A goal she achieved Thursday night, when she performed the best free skate of her life and won the Olympic bronze medal.

Kostner said, "This medal for me is absolutely worth gold. I will cherish it in my heart. I feel so grateful for that, that the patience and the sacrifices and the hard work and the faith has paid [off] in the end."

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