Carolina Kostner: „I had to go back to my roots to find peace in my skating”

Carolina Inside Skating

Answering to Inside Skating’s questions, Carolina Kostner is no different than on the ice: she’s beautiful, serene and, above all, warm, emotional, sincere. With her heart on her palms, the most awarded Italian skater in the history of the discipline opens the door and lets the world of fans into her world, with the joys, the fears, the disappointments and the lessons learnt: „As I was young, I could jump very well but it was life that made me what I am”, „[In Sochi] I had nothing to lose because worse than my free program in Vancouver it could not get”, „My primary goal was not to win, but to be happy”. A confession, a prayer of gratitude – as if Carolina were drawing with her words another version of her trademark skate Ave Maria…

by Florentina Tone

Carolina, this was definitely a dream season for you: a sensational short program, probably your best ever when it comes to conveying your emotions to the audience, that gorgeous Bolero and an Olympic bronze medal atop of that (and I’m not mentioning the European and World medals, you already have many of those…). Could you lead me please into the greatest moments of the 2013-2014 season?

Carolina Kostner: It’s so hard to say which were the best moments of this season. I had a very rough start: physical problems and feeling pressure from all sides. I felt like I would never be and do enough to be worth an Olympic medal. Thanks to my staff, my family and friends I improved my health condition step by step and began to work on believing in my dreams more and more. My primary goal was not to win, but to be happy. I love skating and the results should not be the reason for happiness or not.

The moment I felt something shifted was skating to Ave Maria in Budapest. Hearing the silence and feeling the emotions of the audience was like magic. Another very special day was the Team Event’ short program in Sochi. My best birthday so far! I was very worried the crowd would not appreciate my skating because you would only hear them cheer for the Russian skaters, but after only 5 seconds into my music the public started to applaud and I felt big honor and joy. Nowhere else I’d rather have been than there, on the Olympic Ice, „dancing”!

Another moment I remember very well – the few seconds before entering the ice, the day of my free program in Sochi. I felt scared like never before, but I told myself that this is my challenge and that courage will pay back! I stepped onto that ice, feeling pride and gratitude to be an Olympic athlete, to have the chance to fight for gold. I was very well aware that my chance was little, but little or big I was ready to try. I skated my heart out in Sochi, I have no regrets, the rest was not in my control – and seeing the joy and the pride in the eyes of my mom, my coach and my choreographer at the end, all of these are worth so much more than any medal! One last very special moment this season was ending my short program in Saitama, with the whole crowd on their feet. That standing ovation I secretly dreamed of in Sochi…

You started the Olympic season with a different set of programs – and, prior to the Europeans in Budapest, you changed them completely. Why is that?

I started the season with Humoresque by Dvorak as short program music and Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov as free program music. While creating the Bolero program in the summer of 2012, I had thought of it as the perfect Olympic program, but I didn’t want to miss out on the creative process during the summer of 2013. So, with Lori, we decided to work on a new project, Scheherazade, and then have the chance to choose which one I liked better. As for the short I did not expect at all to ever change it during the season. But somehow during the Grand Prix I felt that my programs were not fully appreciated or understood and so, together with Lori, we decided to not let anything untried. At that time it felt like a risk but as soon as we started creating Ave Maria I fell in love with it. It finally felt right!

Carolina, as if she were flying (skating on Ave Maria at the 2014 Europeans in Budapest)

Carolina, as if she were flying (skating on Ave Maria at the 2014 Europeans in Budapest)

Third time’s a charm – this surely applies to you when it comes to the Olympics. After the not-so-convincing skates in Torino-2006 and Vancouver-2010, you were absolutely amazing in Sochi, winning your first Olympic medal ever, more than 10 years after your Senior debut. Is Carolina in 2014 any different that Carolina in 2006 and 2010? What changed in your tactics, preparation, mindset for the Olympics?

I am convinced that every experience teaches you something. Torino and Vancouver surely haven’t been the most successful competitions I’ve done but in those difficult moments I have learned so many things about myself and about the others. As I was young, I could jump very well but it was life that made me what I am. If I was able to skate as I did in Sochi it was because of all what happened before. I had nothing to lose because worse than my free program in Vancouver it could not get. After Vancouver I made a promise to myself that I would only compete in the Olympic Games one more time if I felt happy and joyful to be there. My goal was to come back from Sochi with a smile, without regrets. No more trying to make others happy. I felt free, honored, strong and home out there on the ice.

I have worked a lot in those past 8 years. I’ve always tried to stay optimistic, fair and open to new ideas. I’ve enjoyed most of the process. Especially working with the most knowledgeable persons in figure skating makes me feel very privileged and it motivated me to work hard every day.

What changed was the way of looking at a competition: no more concentrating on the result, but on the skating itself. The most beautiful part of this sport is that it’s not only a measurement of strength, power, ability etc., but it is a way of communicating with the audience.

You have a smile on your face while attempting your jumps. What is this about, why are you smiling? Is the smile soothing the nerves? Frankly speaking, it’s working for me too: when I see you smile, I’m confident the jump will be perfectly executed…

At that moment I was not aware of that. I guess I was happy to be there and skate. One thing is for sure: sometimes a smile can make you fly ;).

You skated Ave Maria on your birthday, during the Team Event in Sochi, and a lot of people in the arena sang „Happy Birthday to you”. To me and to many of your admirers, this was probably one of the best moments of this edition of the Olympics – but how was it for you?

It’s so hard to describe it in words. For sure it was the best birthday so far! On the other hand, I was trying to stay as concentrate as I could because the competition had only started and I had still about 10 days to go. The Italian cook in the food court of the Athletes Village in Sochi made a cake for me and, when the competition was over, even if it was quite late, we had cake with the Italian team and some friends. The perfect ending of a perfect day!

Looking at your track record, you seem to have tens of medals… Have you ever counted them?

Not really, I keep them in my parents’ house in Ortisei.

Is there a medal that you love the most (your first one, your last one)? I suppose it must be one very dear to you…

Aesthetically, there’s no question, I love the medal I won in Sochi. The ISU medals look all the same. But emotionally there are a couple of them who mean more to me than others. One is my first bronze medal at the World Championships, in Moscow, in 2005: the first time I beat Michelle Kwan, my childhood idol. Then, the gold in Nice and the one in Sochi. But every single one at the end means something special to me, I’ve worked very hard for each one of them.

The podium of the 2012 Worlds in Nice: Carolina Kostner (gold), Alena Leonova (silver) and Akiko Suzuki (bronze)

The podium of the 2012 Worlds in Nice: Carolina Kostner (gold), Alena Leonova (silver) and Akiko Suzuki (bronze)

Additionally, is there a program (short or free) that you’re particularly attached to, for various reasons? To me, Ave Maria is anthological – it will surely remain in the history of the discipline, but this is just me; you may have other favorites…

This is a tough choice. In a way I fell in love with all of them. With some, right away, which I didn’t expect, like the Bolero, and with others later, like Afternoon of a Faun or The Fairy (2005). The most fun choreographic process I had was with Shostakovich’ Piano Trio and the most emotional was for me too Ave Maria. Each program has its own little stories!

Were there any moments that felt difficult to overcome over the years? Any downs/hard times in your career, when you were tempted to give up, to quit skating? I have to be honest with you: that video with you and your mother, „Crescere un atleta olimpico”, is absolutely touching, heartbreaking even, especially when you’re both talking about your previous Olympic experiences…

For sure there have been many. Only once though I really thought I reached my limit and that moment was after Vancouver. I changed the training place and the coach in order to improve but it seamed I couldn’t find my way. Funnily, I had to go back to my roots to find peace in my skating! Oberstdorf, Mr. Huth and my parents have been the three fundamental aspects of my career. I am so grateful for that.

You seem to have a wonderful bond, you and your mom – and I do remember that advice of hers: „You have to give 100% out there. When you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, you’re free to choose something else…” Given this wonderful season, you seem to enjoy skating a lot, but which are your plans for the next one?

I have given more than a 100% for the past 12 years (and maybe more) for figure skating. I’ve collected innumerable memories, friendships and life lessons. I’ve decided not to compete this year and dedicate myself to shows, like Intimissimi on Ice OperaPop, to university and to my family and friends. I am sure I will miss it a lot but I am convinced that a one year break can only be an enrichment for me as a skater and as a person.

Do you have in mind a particular musical piece for the seasons to come? I’ll ask differently: is there a piece that you would like to skate to at a certain point in the future (maybe not in competitions, but in galas…)

Even without competing I have tons of musics in mind that I would still like to skate to!

What is it like to work with Lori Nichol? From what I know, for a considerable amount of time, you only had programs she choreographed; and it must be a reason for that…

I love working with Lori. Her work is professional in every way and she puts her heart and soul into choreography. Her knowledge about skating, skating skills, edges, music, choreography, movement etc. is amazing and she has this charming ability to push me over the limits. It is a challenge every time. She is the one who taught me what figure skating is really about. It’s about the harmony of the movement, about not trying to be a machine, it’s an expression of humanity.

I admire her instinct to choose the right music suitable for every personality and the ability to adapt to each skater, to let the skater inspire her and not impose her movements on the skaters. She is a true inspiration and I thank her for trusting my skating, for her support during the bad times, for the beautiful programs and for the memorable and creative hours spent together on and off the ice.

Bolero: a true masterpiece (2013 Europeans in Zagreb; click on the picture to enlarge)

Bolero: a true masterpiece (2013 Europeans in Zagreb; click on the picture to enlarge)

What about after your competitive career? Will your life continue to be related to figure skating? Do you want to coach, to choreograph?

I would love to help promoting figure skating in Italy. I have enjoyed seeing the Italian skating community expand and seeing our small but charming and strong national team grow year by year. I’d love to see more ice rinks in the future. I’d like to share my experience with young skaters and support them to follow their dreams. I guess figure skating won’t get rid of me that soon! 😉

I’m sure you’ve been asked that many times already, but which are your favorite skaters in the history of the discipline?

Michelle Kwan and Kurt Browning have been my childhood idols. Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali, my favorite ice dancers and Gordeeva&Grinkov, my favorite pair! Also, Stephane Lambiel is my hero!

When you took up skating, was there a female skater that you aspired to be like?

Michelle Kwan.

If it were to give an advice to a young skater, as your mother gave to you, what would you tell her/him?

Have the courage to follow your dreams. My mom always said: „If you do something, do it properly and do it as long as you love it”.

Carolina Ave Maria Budapest

PHOTO GALLERY Carolina, Thank You For The Magic