European champ Kostner wins ladies short

Italian leads despite stepping out of solo triple jump

Despite a slight bobble, Carolina Kostner is "quite honored to be" in first place after her 64.28-point short program at the world championships.
Despite a slight bobble, Carolina Kostner is "quite honored to be" in first place after her 64.28-point short program at the world championships. (Getty Images)


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By Alexandra Stevenson, special to
(03/19/2008) - The ladies short program on the fourth day of the 2008 ISU World Figure Skating Championships provided plenty of excitement to the enthusiastic fans happily waving flags and cheering on their favorites in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Despite a flawed triple Lutz and a slight bobble at the end of a spin, Carolina Kostner of Italy won the discipline, while defending champion Miki Ando sits more than five points back, in eighth place.

Kostner, who successfully defended her European title in January, performed a mature, artistic but not perfect program, which earned her a personal-best 64.28 points. The routine, set to The Doors' "Riders on the Storm," was choreographed by four-time world champion Kurt Browning.

Her status in first place is slightly controversial, because she stepped out of her solo triple jump, one of the eight elements in Wednesday's short program. She chose to do a triple Lutz.

However, she successfully landed a triple flip-triple toe combination that gained a +1.71 Grade of Execution (GOE) from the panel of 12 judges (seven of them awarded +2, and five +1). That one element garnered 11.21 points.

"I am very happy about my personal best," she said. "I have tried the whole season to top my last season's best. I feel quite honored to be in this position. But I tell myself that there is always a first time, so I just try to stay calm and enjoy skating."

Kostner, who turned 21 on Feb. 8, has competed in this event five times before. Her best finish came in 2005, when she earned the bronze medal. She followed that with a disappointing 12th-place performance, so she has had an up-and-down career at the world championships. She has always enjoyed skating in Sweden though.

"I felt very good here. The crowd was great. I have great memories of my first European championships here in Sweden [in Malmo in 2003, where she finished fourth], and it all came back to me when I skated today."

Lying only 0.18 points behind Kostner is last year's world silver medalist, Mao Asada of Japan. Her program, choreographed by Lori Nichol and set to Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, was highlighted by a splendid, +1.57 GOE triple flip-triple loop combination, which earned a total of 12.07 points.

The judges, however, ruled that she took off from the wrong edge on her triple Lutz later in the program, limiting the GOE on that element to no better than -1.

"My jumps were good, but my spins and spirals were not a high level, so I want to improve on that for tomorrow," said Asada, who moved back to Japan recently after training in Lake Arrowhead, Calif., for most of the season. "I didn't feel any impact being here without my coach, because coaches from the federation checked on my levels."

Although her spirals started in beautiful positions, she was given a Level 1, instead of her usual Level 4, because each position wasn't held for the required time.

"I haven't seen my video yet, so I haven't made an analysis. But I will sit down and watch it to adjust something for tomorrow," she said.

Asada's teammate, Yukari Nakano, who has finished fifth in the last two world championships, is currently in third place, three full points behind Asada.

The 22-year-old, who has been criticized for her tendency to "wrap" her free leg on her jumps, did not try a triple-triple combination, but all eight of her required elements were completed successfully. She received particularly good scores for her spins and spirals (Level 4 for her spirals and flying camel and Level 3 for her layback and change-foot combination spins).

Nakano said, "I did everything. I managed to get high levels on my spins and spirals. I am honored to be in this position today. I am also very surprised about it.

"Compared to other skaters, I am quite small, and my trainer always tells me to be very aggressive on the ice, and today I tried to keep that in mind. I did everything I can do. This is the best I can give.

"The most important is still to come, the free skating. I had no competitions after [Japanese] nationals [in December]. I used this time to review every element and to work hard on my programs. That gave me a good result today."

Ando, recovering from the shock of being in eighth place, said, "I intended to do the triple Lutz to double loop and not triple-triple, so that was not a mistake. I was a bit tired in the leg."

The 20-year-old made some news this week by deciding, with coach Nikolai Morozov, to ditch this year's routine and return to last year's "Scheherazade" short program.

"I love both my new and my old short programs, but I'm more confident with this one, so I went back to it. I know [tomorrow] I have to do a clean program, and I will just try to enjoy and do my best."

Ando lies 5.07 points behind Kostner but only 1.89 points off the podium.

The three American skaters -- Kimberly Meissner, Bebe Liang and Ashley Wagner -- are in ninth, 10th and 11th place, respectively. Those are slightly disappointing results for a country that has had so much success in the past, but Meissner is only 3.85 points out of third place.

All three ladies gave joyful, energetic performances, skating their hearts out in this ultra-competitive field.

Meissner, Liang and Wagner were just thrilled to be in Gothenburg. They all showed the joy of actually doing as well as they could, even if that doesn't put them at the top of the field.

Meissner, the 2006 world champion, could have taken her past successes and gone on with her life, but she wanted to keep skating. Since winning Skate America in October, she has struggled this season, particularly during a seventh-place finish at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, where she was the defending champion. But she stood up to the pressure of skating last among the 53 competitors in the field in Sweden, and the 18-year-old was thrilled after her performance.

"I'm so excited," said Meissner after leaving the ice. "All my hard work paid off for that. It felt great. Mr. [Richard] Callaghan, [her coach], has been great for me. He's been giving me a lot of confidence.

"We wanted to do a smart program. We knew that I definitely could do a clean program like that. Right now, I don't care where I am as far as the placement goes, because nothing can top the feeling I have."

Dressed in a simple, sleeveless, fire-engine red dress, Meissner began with her spiral sequence, an unusual choice. Most skaters attack their jumps first. But this was a carefully performed item, matching perfectly the slow build-up of her music, Peter Gabriel's "The Feeling Begins."

She was rewarded with the maximum Level 4, her only element to gain this status, and, with a GOE of +0.57, she banked 3.97 points on the element. Her triple Lutz-double toe combination followed, which earned a +1 GOE and 8.30 points.

Meissner said she reduced the difficulty of that move to a triple-double instead of triple-triple because she "wanted to do a clean program with no downgrades."

As Meissner left the ice, a beaming Callaghan shook her hand, obviously pleased with her showing.

Liang was also delighted with her performance. "I was very relaxed," she said with a grin. "It's really exciting competing in my first [senior] world championship. I'm really glad to be here. I'm grateful for the opportunity to come and really enjoy the experience. I really felt good, and this is my first short that I had no mistakes."

Liang has competed at the senior level in the U.S. championships eight times since her debut in 2001 as a tiny 12-year-old. Her highest finish was fourth place in 2007.

"This is the biggest competition I've ever been to, but yet I'm the most relaxed," she said.

Liang did not skate as cleanly at the the recent Four Continents Championships in South Korea, finishing 11th. It's an experience she has put behind her. "I take everything I've learned and move on."

The soon-to-be-20-year-old skated to Paul Dukas' "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," which was used in Disney's Fantasia. In that classic, Mickey Mouse is a wayward apprentice who tries to make a spell so that a broom does his work. But he can not stop the broom and when he tries to destroy it, by chopping it up, all the pieces become new brooms.

"I remember watching it with my sister. The first thing I thought about when we decided to use this music was those creepy brooms."

The strongest element in her short program was a Level 4 flying sit spin. The rest of the routine was very solid, leaving her 4.44 points behind her teammate, Meissner.

Wagner is 1.22 point further back, in 11th place.

The 16-year-old said, "I felt really good about my performance. It was a tad on the cautious side, but other than that, I skated everything to the best that I could do, so I was pleased with that.

"I've been working hard since the Four Continents on footwork and on making sure that I could do everything to the best of my ability. I didn't get my anticipated levels at that event, so this was our [hers and coach Shirley Hughes'] main focus.

"I am absolutely delighted to be here," she added. "My dad said, 'I can't believe it. Just last year you were at junior worlds [where she earned the bronze]. This is your first year on the senior circuit.' I never imagined myself being in Gothenburg. It's really a dream come true."