Ice Network

Kostner hopes to leave impression with her skating

Eleven-time European medalist learns to balance technique with artistry
  • Ice Network on Facebook
  • Ice Network on Twitter
Carolina Kostner made a lot of noise with her skating in Moscow, but the loudest statement she made may have been with her choice of costume for her 'Afternoon of a Faun' free skate. -Getty Images

Italy's Carolina Kostner added one more piece of hardware to her already impressive trophy case last week -- a European bronze, the 11th medal she has won at the continental level during her career. She talked to icenetwork about her improved skating technique and how she has managed to balance that with the depth of her art.

Icenetwork: Your new costume of the faun, which you debuted here in Moscow, set off an incredible buzz. It's being talked about so much!

Kostner: We've been looking for the best costume to highlight the music, the exotic part of Debussy. That's how we came up with the color and the design. Its pattern, especially the top of it, is inspired by Vaslav Nijinsky's costume on the original poster of the Ballets Russes, when Nijinsky danced the ballet for the first time. Nijinsky was so innovative for his time, and maybe it's the time to be innovative (she smiles)?

Icenetwork: Are you going to keep it?

Kostner: I don't know yet. I want to see the video. It's the first time I have worn it under the lights of a big arena, so we'll make the decision once we know how it turned out.

Icenetwork: You've made great technical progress this season, regaining your triple lutz and upgrading your triple toe-triple toe combination to a triple flip-triple toe.

Kostner: When I did my first Europeans, I skated two clean programs and landed two triple-triple combinations in the free. I didn't end up on the podium because they told me afterward that jumps were not enough to make a good program. That put the spark in me to improve not just my technique but also artistically.

Going through the different ages and stages of the body and becoming a woman, training has not always been easy. You have to fight through and find new techniques and new motivation. It takes patience, determination and a love for what you do. I have that. I have all of that. I know I can do it.

It's not so easy bringing that technical content back, finding your confidence and finding your inner peace with what you're doing. If I think back two years ago, I started from scratch, doing single and double jumps. Now, it's really starting to come along...well, maybe it didn't in my free program here, but practices are going great. I'm improving every day, and it's fantastic for me to go through that whole process.

Icenetwork: In practice, we also saw you land a whole array of jumps in combination, just like the Russians…

Kostner (she laughs): Yes! I did a triple toe-triple toe-double toe-double loop. I landed it just for the fun of it, just for me. When you're young, as Zhenia (Evgenia Medvedeva) mentioned, as soon as you land a jump, you want to launch another one. When I'm practicing, sometimes I feel the same, and it makes me feel I'm young!

Last year, I got so many questions about my age. People would tell me, "Why are you coming back? We don't really understand why you're doing it...are you not taking too much of a risk?" I can tell you that age doesn't make any difference. When you watch other sports, like tennis for instance, but also soccer or hockey, you'll notice that the age of sportspeople is increasing nowadays, toward 30 and higher.

Icenetwork: Yes, but you've nurtured your body a lot for that.

Kostner: I'm very thankful that my body has cooperated, of course. But, also, a lot of work goes into making the machine keep running. You learn that from the day you start learning to skate. When you're injured, you learn that even more, actually. There are not very many things I have not experienced at some point of my career. I know my body. The other day I had a headache, and an intestinal flu. I just called my coach and told him that there was no way for me to skate and that I would stay home. With the experience I have, you don't panic anymore, as you know your body better.

Icenetwork: Watching you skate in practice, you seemed like you look for perfection with every step and move, as if any fault would be an insult to beauty. Is this something you're particularly concerned with?

Kostner: What I love, at the age I am (Kostner will turn 31 on Feb. 7) -- I mean, not so much the number of years but also the number of hours I put in on the ice -- is that I don't have to expend as much effort into learning how to skate anymore. There are things I don't need to do every day, as I used to. Skating comes naturally, just like brushing your teeth. This allows me to concentrate on aspects (of skating) that I didn't even understand when I was 15 or 16 years old.

I feel so joyful that I can still improve. In my mind or in my body, there is always something I can improve on, literally every day! I'm confident that by the end of the season things are going to be really good. This motivates me tremendously. Of course, when you're at a competition like this one, you fight for a medal and that motivates you. But in everyday practice and life, I have that real inside motivation to find the version of Carolina which I firmly believe I am.

I have this vision of skating where you combine the technique with the feeling and the emotions. It's not only the movement; it's about opening your heart. Opening your heart sometimes means opening it to difficult emotions. If you want to feel joy, you have to feel pain as well, and sometimes it's not easy -- it takes courage, patience and determination to lay it down and skate it and feel it with your heart.

Icenetwork: How did you come up with the idea for the faun?

Kostner: Lori [Nichol] (Kostner's choreographer) had proposed the idea back in the summer of 2010 -- precisely at the moment when my world had opened up. I was getting over the [Olympic] Games in Vancouver, which was a hard experience for me. It was a case of one door closing and another one opening up. That's what happened. I was not ready to understand Lori's idea, however. She told me, "Let's go listen to it in the rink tomorrow, you'll see what I'm trying to explain." Then, at the time when the music crescendos, I had the feeling that I was flying. That has changed my skating forever.

This year we were looking for a musical piece that would tell of my whole journey, and who I am as a person. We listened to classical music and modern music, famous and unknown. We could have built good programs, but none made me move from the inside. I thought maybe I had too much expectation for the music. After all, music doesn't make a skater; what matters is what you do with the music. Then Lori opened the 2010 file. Once we were on the ice, we looked at each other and said, "That's it." We stopped thinking of whether the judges and the audience would understand. That was just it.

Now my hope is that I manage to show the program in the same way I do it in practice sometimes. This is not easy music. It comes from the period of Impressionism, a period of time when all kinds of new ideas were emerging. Artists of all mediums were exploring new fields, like Caravaggio or Mozart had done in their own times. It's a musical piece where you need to look for more than you see with your eyes. It inspires me. Every piece of art can't be understandable to everybody right away. I hope that through what I'm doing, I can leave something more than just my 11 medals -- although those 11 medals are just incredible by themselves!

Icenetwork: Michael Huth was with you in Moscow. Are you still working with Alexei Mishin?

Kostner: Oh, yes! We've just texted this morning. I am super-thankful and happy that he supports me and understands me the way he does. His coaching is really useful to me.

Icenetwork: When we saw you skate in practice, with that new technique, we understood that you came back not only because you loved skating but because you wanted to win.

Kostner: I think that one year ago, I realize now, I won that same European bronze medal by being only half of what I am now.

I still have an idea in my mind, a vision of something I've not yet been able to do. I hope I can succeed at it.

Icenetwork: You've imposed this discipline on yourself?

Kostner: There is always a balance between finding the strongest discipline and the lightness of being, which you still need. At the end of the day, this question goes beyond sport. You can apply it to every aspect of daily life as well. Sport remains such a beautiful lesson of life.

You know, I just read a great sentence the other day: "Don't be locked up in your past. It was just a lesson, not a life sentence." You need only to tell yourself, "I did my best at that given time." Now, I'm looking forward. Of course, I have the great fortune to have people around me who support me through everything.

There are things you don't understand when you're experiencing them. I hope I can give a spark of hope and inspiration to all young people and beyond who need it, just like I needed it at certain times.