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Italian Kostner repeats as European champion

Meier uses strong free program to finish second

Carolina Kostner shows off her gold medal after winning the European championships.
Carolina Kostner shows off her gold medal after winning the European championships. (Getty Images)

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By Klaus-Reinhold Kany, special to icenetwork.com
(01/26/2008) - The ladies free program had a good, though not brilliant level and was the last competition of the 2008 European Championships in the Croatian capital of Zagreb. Carolina Kostner of Italy defended her title as European ladies champion in a close, but correct decision. She had already taken the lead in the short program by 0.69 points. It contained an excellent combination of triple flip and triple toeloop for which five of the judges gave a +2 (GOE). But then she doubled the Lutz out of steps which is required triple. The other elements were good, and her style was very dynamic. She had by far the highest speed of all ladies. Her interpretation of the music "Riders on the Storm" by the group "The Doors" was convincing.

The pupil of Michael Huth drew to start first in the best group of the free program. To music of Antonin Dvorak, Kostner started with a fabulous combination of triple flip-triple toeloop-double loop. But then she doubled the Lutz again, repeating the problems she has had with this jump since she injured herself while doing it two years ago. Three good triples followed, but the singled the toeloop after the double Axel which was planned triple. Her combination spin was shaky because she was exhausted, but it was just enough to win. Later she commented: "It was a new situation for me to defend a title. It has been a hard week to stay concentrated. But now I think I can keep up with the best of the world at the World Championships in Sweden in March."

The 20-year-old Kostner grew up in a village in the mountains of South Tyrol in Northern Italy. When she was only 12, her rink in Ortisei was destroyed by a heavy mud slide and she had to leave her home in order to continue skating. As she had been in a summer camp in Oberstdorf, Germany, before, she decided to go there and train under the tutelage of Michael Huth. For the last eight years she has lived and trained in the Bavarian Alps and home of the famous annual summer competition Nebelhorn Trophy. She went to school there and passed a difficult final examination last year although her first language is not German, but Reto-Romanian. She likes to work within the atmosphere of other top skaters like the men's winner and good friend Tomas Verner and the second Czech skater Michal Brezina, who both often train there as well. Her aunt is the former famous alpine downhill skiing racer Isolde Kostner, who is a kind of role model for her and taught her the fighting spirit. Her father played ice hockey in the Italian national team at the Olympics, and her mother was a national figure skater in the 1970s.

Sarah Meier of Switzerland landed 1.84 points behind Kostner and won the silver medal. She started with a very safe combination of triple Lutz and double toeloop, but landed the triple Salchow forward. The rest of the elegant program to music of the soundtrack Patch Adams was clean, the layback spin in both programs even world class. She landed about three points behind Kostner in the short program, but moved up to the silver medal with the best free program. Her first element was a good combination of triple Lutz-double toeloop-double loop, followed by a step out on the triple flip, which she had to relearn because she used to jump it from the wrong edge. Four triple jumps followed, her spins and steps all had Level 3 or 4. After the competition she said: "Last year I was a little disappointed about my first silver medal. But this year I realized that it is harder to win a second medal. I am happy and especially proud on my two Salchows after missing it in the short program."

Finland came with three very good ladies, and it was the new Finnish champion Laura Lepisto who won a surprising bronze medal. She had been first in the short program at Skate Canada 2007, but then did not skate a good free program there. In Zagreb, she was one of few ladies to perform a clean short program, but with an easy combination of triple-double toeloop which was planned triple-triple, and a triple loop out of steps. In the long program, her highlight was an excellent combination of two triple toeloops and two more triples, but she doubled the Lutz and fell on the triple loop. The skater from Espoo, a suburb of Helsinki, got high program components because of her elegant style. She commented: "This is my first European championships. I knew that with good performances I had a chance to be on the podium. Skate Canada was a good experience. I skated my very best short program there, but I went very nervous into the long. I learnt from my experience there. My idols are older Finnish skaters and also the American skaters. They skate so beautifully and with good quality."

The second Finnish lady Kiira Korpi was second in a flawless short program which included a triple lutz combination and a very good triple loop. Her style is a bit more mundane, she reminded some spectators a bit of former U.S. skater Nicole Bobek (second at Worlds 1995). But in the long program, she doubled or singled three of her jumps and therefore ended up only fifth. Fourth was Julia Sebestyen of Hungary whose trademark jump is the highest lutz of all ladies in the world. But she doubled a few other jumps.

The second Italian lady, Valentina Marchei was sixth overall, showing good triple lutzes, but missing other jumps. Elene Gedevanishvili of Georgia, who trains in Hackensack, N.J., finished seventh and seems to come back after a year in which she struggled with inconsistency.