Ice Network

Kostner: 'What I'm looking for is to surprise myself'

Collaboration with coach Mishin sets Italian skater on path of self-discovery
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Carolina Kostner revealed some new sides to her skating in her programs at the European championships. -Getty Images

Carolina Kostner pulled off an incredible comeback this week. Fourteen years after winning bronze at the world junior championships in Ostrava -- her first time medaling on the global stage -- she stood on the podium again, having earned the same color medal, and doing it in the same city, no less. Although she was ordered not to talk with the media during these European championships, she graciously agreed to stay after the post-event conference to discuss her comeback and her programs with icenetwork.

Icenetwork: So you're back in Ostrava, where you won your first (ISU championships) medal, a bronze, some 14 years ago?

Carolina Kostner: Oh yes, I remember those junior world championships in Ostrava very well. That year (2003) I was skating both in juniors and seniors. We were a group of skaters, which included Miki Ando, and we were challenging ourselves to do jumps and combinations.

That showed me where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. I feel absolutely joyful and honored to continue this beautiful journey.

Over the course of last year, I decided to compete again. I really wondered why. I have won everything I wanted; I've been to the end of my dream. I had no idea of the way I was going to react nor of the audience's reaction.

I don't feel any interest in other medals or results, really. But I feel a deep interest in learning what I've not learned yet. That's why I asked Mr. [Alexei] Mishin if I could train with him, at times. I feel he can teach me things I've not learned in the past 27 years! That's exactly what's happening.

Icenetwork: What do you feel you still have to learn?

Kostner: I have learned a lot with Mr. Mishin, especially on jumps and technique. I know that I still have so much to learn, technically speaking. I came back to the competitive realm to work intensively on technique. It's the right time to do it: I can do it now, but I won't be able to in five or 10 years. I would not like to wake up 10 years from now and realize that I missed my chance. In life, you regret things you haven't done more than things you have done.

Icenetwork: How did you like these Europeans?

Kostner: They've been difficult and fun, at the same time. There was a little bit of fear, but a lot more joy. I was so enthusiastic that the joy I felt was much bigger than the nervousness. I have started (this part of) my journey not long ago. I am especially happy about the way I dealt with nervousness, in between being happy to be here and trying to contain my emotions. This gives me confidence to continue on this journey.

Icenetwork: Your short program showed quite a change, with broken bodylines and sharp movements we've never seen you perform before. How did that come about?

Kostner: The music of my short program ("God of Thunder" by Kitaro and "Bonzo's Montreux," a piece by Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham) has no regular rhythm, only syncopations. I once worked on a show (that used) John Bonham's music. I had felt a lot of emotion then. Coming back to competition allowed me to take a risk. I had several possibilities, but I chose to take the bigger risk, as one can always go back afterwards. It required us to find a sort of modernity in the movement. It was difficult at first, because it's not my natural movement at all.

Lori [Nichol] (Kostner's choreographer) has pushed me a bit further year after year. I am really thankful for her. I have matured as an artist as well. When you start believing in something, if it pleases your soul, then you don't wonder anymore -- you just do it.

In the show, we did one movement per beat. The rules of skating required that we make some adjustments. But this program gives me loads of energy. The more I'll work on it, the more energy I'll be able to transmit to the audience.

Icenetwork: Your free program is quite inspired, as you chose Vivaldi's music to a psalm. Why did you make this choice?

Kostner: In the end, when you go deep into the music, the long program is more difficult than the short. The short program is a statement. It's direct. In the long program, you need to maintain that meditative atmosphere until the end. At the same time, the music is growing, little by little, almost imperceptibly. That's what I was looking for: a musical piece to inspire me, which would be completely different from the short, and also one that would pertain to my Italian roots. Vivaldi was an Italian composer, and this counted for me. His music is incredibly modern, although he composed it a very long time ago.

Vivaldi composed that piece for an orphanage, and its own story is quite inspiring. Since it is the first time in my competitive career that I can use lyrics, the decision wasn't difficult to make.

Our initial idea was that of protecting the young, just like a mother protects her children. What matters to me is to give some hope, a future, a meaning to those young people who are looking for something to do with their lives. I've always had this chance myself to know what to do with my life, and I could make that vision come true. But everybody doesn't have that same chance.

Icenetwork: You need to be quite calm to skate such a religious piece, though!

Kostner (smiles): Oh, well, one should always be at peace when skating! In skating, it is so difficult to perform elements that require so much explosiveness and speed in the movement but for a rather long period, as long in duration as a 1,500-meter race on a track field. On another hand, the calmer you are, the more you can express your strength. You manage that when you learn more about your body and your mind.

When you are a child, you learn to jump and move and stay warm. I realized that if I need to move and get to (certain) highs, I also need some calm. In this free program, I think I have managed both sides.

Icenetwork: How do you work with Mr. Mishin?

Kostner: Working with Alexei is not easy, but it renews my enthusiasm. We have a very professional relationship. He is direct; he tells you exactly what he thinks -- whether you like it or not. You have to be ready to accept it, make the change and work in the direction he has advised. I'm really into that project, in the middle of the path. Making mistakes is part of the game.

As I said, I've learned a lot working with him. You can feel the difference in practice. Sometimes, when I am stressed or tired, I may see some older reflexes surfacing again. But from one competition to the next, I'm making fewer and fewer mistakes. That's my goal. It allows me to feel joy as I skate. I love what I'm doing so much.

What I'm looking for is to surprise myself. Surprises arrive when you expect them the least. If you keep yourself open and ready to learn some little things each day, then day by day, after a while, you realize how far you can go. Sometimes you can get to places and find emotions and experiences that you will cherish your whole life.

Note: This interview contains several passages from the two post-event conferences.