Kostner working with Mishin to regain her Olympic form
EGNA: Carolina Kostner is coming full circle. The Italian has returned to her native Alto Adige region to climb back to the elite level of international figure skating after a nearly three-year absence due to a suspension for helping her then -boyfriend evade doping controls.
While the hometown fans gave her a heroine’s welcome during the Italian championships this week, Kostner was nowhere near her top form of 2014, when she won the bronze medal at the Sochi Winter Olympics with a near flawless free skate.
But if anyone can raise her back to Olympic levels, it is Alexei Mishin, the Russian coach who trained Alexei Urmanov, Alexei Yagudin, and Yevgeny Plushenko to greatness.
Kostner has been training with Mishin fulltime in St. Petersburg since Sept. 1. “‘When she came to me, she was destroyed,” Mishin said after Kostner claimed her eighth Italian title on Thursday. He said his first mission, after her long absence from competition, was to give her confidence “that she is able to complete. And step by step, I think we did.” His second task has been to radically shake up her approach to the elements. Mishin’s skaters don’t learn by repetition, a common approach to vanquish errors and create muscle memory. Instead, Mishin assigns them a set of exercises for each jump to create the proper technique.
LEARNING ALL OVER AGAIN
The program, call it creative destruction, is nothing less than grueling, Kostner acknowledged. “He has revealed an interesting but not so simple method that has provoked many moments of frustration, some cursing, many falls, and many moments of uncertainty,” Kostner said. She said she felt like she has been learning all over again.
“‘In some ways, I feel like a 14-year-old who is learning, almost from zero. It is not from zero, it is only a change in perception, which often in life isn’t bad.” Kostner’s last competitive season in 2014 was by far her finest. She won the Olympic bronze with a career-best 142.61 points in the free skate after landing eight triples, three in combination, to a fluidly choreographed “Bolero.” She followed that with a best-ever short program at the world championships in Saitama, Japan, where she finished third.
She always planned to take off at least part of the 2015 season to rest, but the suspension turned that into two full years. She called it “a period of maturation” when addressing reporters after reaching a deal last year to return to competition. She exuded a newfound tranquility, along with a determination to get back into competition, sights set on the 2018 Winter Games.
During the break, Kostner kept up exhibition skating, and she started training with a dance company in Rome to enhance her expression. But she was missing critical ice hours working on top-level elements.
Fast forward 2 1/2 seasons, and her level of difficulty has clearly diminished.
In her final free program before an adoring hometown crowd, the former world champion skipped a simple triple toe loop jump in combination. As she came off the ice, Mishin gave her a quizzical look and pointed to his head, as if to say, “What happened?” The error was surprising, but Mishin played it down. “We did not plan to be perfect right now,” he said.
He huddled backstage after the nationals with Lori Nichols, Kostner’s longtime choregrapher, telling her that they needed to add more difficulty to the program to be competitive. Kostner’s next challenge will be the Europeans in Ostrava, Czech Republic, at the end of January. Depending on the outcome, the Italian federation will make a final decision on whether Kostner will get Italy’s single world’s berth, which last year went to Roberta Rodeghiero, who finished 16th. Kostner is spending two weeks at home in Alto Adige with her family, at least part of that time she will be working huddled with Nichol to add difficulty to the program according to Mishin’s prescription.
Mishin is confident in Kostner’s ability, saying “Carolina is one of the most precise and serious pupils which I ever had.”
The multilingual Kostner likened Mishin’s technique to learning to converse in a new language. The experience has been nothing if not humbling. “Slowly, slowly, I am managing to put into practice what he is teaching me. I still have a lot to learn, and that is wonderful because two years ago, I thought I had learned everything in my sport. Instead, every day I am aware there is a whole new world.”
EGNA ORA: In this photo taken on Thursday, Dec 15, 2016 Carolina Kostner performs during the Italian figure skating championships in Egna Ora, Italy. The Italian has returned to her native Alto Adige region to climb back to the elite level of international figure skating after a nearly three-year absence due to a suspension for helping her then-boyfriend evade doping controls.