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At long last, Kostner coronated as world champ

Russia's Lenova takes silver; Japan's Suzuki wins bronze; Wagner shines in free

Italian Carolina Kostner's free skate was 7.64 points better than the rest of the field.
Italian Carolina Kostner's free skate was 7.64 points better than the rest of the field. (Getty Images)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(03/31/2012) - Finally! Carolina Kostner, from Italy, won the gold medal Saturday at the 2012 World Championships in Nice with 189.94 points, more than five points ahead of her closest competitor. Alena Leonova maintained some of her advantage from the short to take the silver medal (184.28 points). Japan's Akiko Suzuki captured the bronze (180.68 points). Ashley Wagner, from the U.S., finished third in the free skate, but her poor short program left her in fourth overall, four points short of the podium with 176.67 points. Alissa Czisny finished 22nd after a disappointing showing.

What an evening it was! The first two and a half groups of six skaters each (out of four total groups) looked like a tragedy to the beauty of skating, as so many programs turned into a fall contest, including that of unfortunate, although brave, Czisny.

Wagner skated last in the third group and turned the mood of the evening to a world championship again. The last group was to concentrate all the passion these championships had to offer.

Kostner has finally made it to the top, thanks to a history-book free skate. Dressed in a silver unitard that emphasized her perfect body line, in harmony with the flow of her skating, she skated her free skate to Mozart's "Concerto No. 23" with a full mastery and control of her elements. It was at a level rarely seen from her from start to end of a free skate. The audience remained completely silent as she was crafting her masterpiece, simply yelling after each safe landing.

Kostner opened with a perfect triple loop, triple flip and double Axel-triple toe combination. She only doubled the planned triple flip of her triple flip-double toe combination, but she quickly recomposed to land the rest of her program as planned. She got Level 4s for her three spins and step sequence. Kostner also gained 65.72 points for her superlative components, five points ahead of her closest competitor (Mao Asada, from Japan, scored 60.02). The audience exploded with joy when she landed her final triple Salchow-double toe-double loop and went hysterical when the final rankings were displayed.

"Deep in my heart, I knew that I had a chance," Kostner said afterward. "But as soon that thought hit my mind, I tried to push it away. I trained so hard, and my programs are so beautiful. My goal is to show how much joy skating gives me, and to share that joy with the audience (and the judges)."

Kostner then spoke to the audience via a microphone before receiving her gold medal. When 2002 Olympic ice dance gold medalist Gwendal Peizerat asked her what had changed for her this year, she answered in her modest and gentle way: "Each of the last 10 seasons gave me something to learn. This year I think it was my time."

Leonova finished fourth in her free skate, set to "Adagio for Strings." She hit her triple toe-triple toe combination with ease, but had more difficulty with her subsequent triple Lutz. She was ecstatic after her skate was over.

"It's a very good surprise for me to be on the podium," Leonova said. "I would have been happy with the bronze, but silver is even better!"

Suzuki skated right after Kostner and managed to overcome the audience's roar. Her program to Johan Strauss' Die Fledermaus did not have the amplitude and magic touch of Kostner's, but it was consistently skated. Her only mistake was to single the Lutz of her combination.

"Last year, I was very frustrated not to be able to compete at worlds," she said afterward. "At first, I was not so happy with my performance, but this is the first present I receive after turning 27. I am extremely happy of that medal."

"When she skates like that," Wagner's coach John Nicks offered right after Wagner's skate, "I really enjoy it. She makes it look easy, but we all know it's not."

Wagner opened her Black Swan program with a great triple flip-double toe-double toe combination, and landed successfully her double Axel-triple toe combination, but the latter jump was under-rotated.

The rest of her program was flawless, and she got two Level 4s for two of her spins. After her final triple flip, she gave a "wing" to her coach by the boards.

"I really had to focus on the elements for the first half of the program, but once I finished the jumps I could really enjoy," she said.

She got a unanimous and spontaneous standing ovation from the capacity crowd.

"This was an incredible performance," Wagner said enthusiastically afterward. "I was so nervous going into it, but I felt very solid and much in control once I started out there. I approached very slowly each element one at a time, to make a confident performance."

Wagner's program was really a relief for the audience, as so many of the previous programs had been marred by mistakes and by disruptive falls.

Kanako Murakami, from Japan, did not quite confirm her second-place showing in Thursday's short program. She skated her free skate to Felix Mendelssohn's "Violin Concerto No. 2," with that precise balance Japanese skaters cultivate while skating, appropriately so for a violin masterpiece.

There was no miracle for Czisny, who did not score higher than 3.2 on any of her jumps. The whole audience tried to support her and cheer her up, but that did not work. Her "Valse Triste" remained a very sad waltz, and this week will remain as an off week for Czisny.

"I'm not sure what happened today or this week," she found the courage to say through her tears. "I came not feeling as prepared as I wanted to be. But I knew I could do everything in the program. I could not find my feet this week."

Her performance, although far from being representative of her talent and of her team, still needs to be acknowledged, so tough this week will have been for her.

"I'm very proud of what Alissa has done tonight," said Yuka Sato, who coaches her with Jason Dungjen. "She was in the midst of a situation that was most fearful. A lot of us go through this. She wanted to do well, but it was too much."

Czisny had the courage to come and skate in spite of her disastrous short program and rough practice sessions, and to try every one of her jumps.

"She is very upset right now, and very very disappointed, but I am proud of her," Sato said.