Reigning women's world figure skating champion Carolina Kostner has been busy. She had a great season last year, so I had to find out from Carolina why she was choosing to bow out of the Grand Prix competitions this season.
Reigning women's world figure skating champion Carolina Kostner has been busy.
She was in Toronto over the fall to work with legendary choreographer Lori Nichol on programs that she will be debuting this weekend at the Golden Spin of Zagreb.
You know when something jumps out at you and you are left with an impression you didn't have before? That is what happened to me when I walked into the rink to interview Kostner.
I arrived a few minutes early to watch. I have always loved the passion with which Kostner skates. Watching her at ice level, I was taken by her gazelle-like fluidity, speed and grace.
It may have been the strains of classical music in the background as she worked through a particularly intricate piece of foot work. It may have been the encouragement being offered from the boards and Nichol.
I stood rooted to the spot enjoying Kostner and Nichol 'in the moment' of creating. I shouldn`t have been all that surprised at the extraordinary impression with which I was left.
What a season it was for Kostner last year, capping off titles at the Grand Prix Final and European championships with winning worlds for the first time last March in Nice.
I had to find out from Kostner why she was choosing to bow out of the Grand Prix competitions this season.
CK: "I decided that I have had lots of travel over the last 10 years and that I just wanted to keep things simple. The past spring was very stressful but also enjoyable. Everybody compliments you but your coach doesn't. It's tough to have that when you are skating because you want to believe only the good things which of course isn't right. I wanted to have time to get back to real skating and to the real sport and that is what this fall is about."
Pj: You are reigning world and European champion - how important is this pre-Olympic season in your overall plan?
CK: "I don't think that this season is more or less important. It is a time for me to experiment. I have created a big dream. I have talked a lot to Lori about what I would like to do and about the changes I would like to make. I think that I don't have so many years left to skate and that it is coming to an end there is still so much to do.
"I have to admit that these past two years have been amazing. I enjoyed skating and competing. I think back and I won all three skating events last season. I always thought that being world champion would mean that I wouldn't be scared or have worries.
"I am sometimes worried a little bit because I am not always the strongest competitor. I can be very good, or very scared; very nervous. I have lived all of those situations. I have been high and low and it has not killed me. I am lucky to have beautiful friends in my life who help me."
Pj: What is it about your on-ice relationship with Lori Nichol that creates the magic we see in your programs?
CK: "I am always really excited the first couple of days that we are together. Then I hit a big hole and then Lori needs [a lot of] patience. I am somebody who needs to make my own decisions. I know it is hard for her but I really appreciate Lori's patience and passion. I really appreciate that she is pushing my boundaries. She is so convincing that she is able to convince me."
Pj: As a competitor, are you thinking about the other competitors in order to bring out your best skate or are you thinking about your own performance and making it your best regardless of what anybody else does?
CK: "Of course I have to force myself to concentrate on myself. I am the one on the ice so it is important for me to be thinking about that. It can sometimes be discouraging to think that [another competitor] does something better than I do. It awakens you to what you have to do to be better. I have to say that when I compare myself to the other competitors, it's positive.
"[My coach] Michael Huth can read my expressions. I don't know all of his strategies but he knows what I need. I trust him on that and I try not to argue and just believe in the strategies. As an example, at worlds after the short program [Editor's note: Kostner was third place] he told me to not train on the day of the Free.
"I didn't like this idea. I told him to let me sleep on it and I would call him. On the morning of the Free, I called him because I decided to follow his advice. Sometimes I like to boss him around but I know I have to listen to him."
Pj: What are your strengths as a skater?
CK: "A big strength of mine is that I care so much. I can't work on something if I don't believe in it. I always have more fun if the choreography is on the music. I love music and I am inspired to work harder and spend more energy. I feel lucky that I was born with this passion."
Pj: How would you like to be remembered?
CK: "I hope I can be a good example for young skaters. To be able to control what I can and be a help and inspiration to others. I wish I had had that for myself when I went to Washington [worlds] in 2003. I was too young to go to the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002 and so when I was on the ice with Michelle Kwan, Sasha Cohen and Fumie Suguri, I was skating along the boards and my coach was going crazy!
"I wish I had someone then that could have been an example for me."
Thoughtful, articulate and talented, it struck me that Kostner has decided to leave her mark on skating rather than vice versa.
PJ KwongPJ is a self-proclaimed Word Broker who goes by the motto: I read them. I write them. I speak them. A degree from the University of Toronto studying Modern Languages has been put to good use as a bilingual PA announcer for, among other things, the last 5 Olympic Games, the FIFA U-20 2007 Men's World Cup and numerous international figure skating events since 1993.
Working as a figure skating coach for the last 25+ years led to commentating opportunities from CTV/TSN, ABC, Tokyo Broadcasting, CBC, Fuji TV, Seoul Broadcasting and CCTV among others. CBC has been home to Pj's skating voice, writing and commentary opinions since 2007. She would tell you that although working in skating is where her passion lies; she is the voice of lots of commercial projects, a blogger on her own site, a public speaker and with "Taking The Ice: Success Stories from the World of Canadian Figure Skating" a published author. You want opinions? She's got them. Follow her on Twitter to see.