LONDON, Ontario — Carolina Kostner could have taken her gold medal from last year’s world championships and run.
She finally had the title many had been predicting for the better part of a decade. Better yet, she’d redeemed herself from those dismal performances at the Vancouver Olympics and 2009 world championships, where she spent more time sprawling on the ice than a kid learning how to skate.
But to retire would have meant ignoring the precious lessons those awful times taught her.
“The reason is just that I love it,” the Italian said Tuesday. “I cannot expect from everyone to love my skating, but I love to do it. I’m not ready to give that up yet. I know that there is a small chance that I can really repeat that perfection like last season. But it’s in my heart, and every time I go on the ice I take it with me and say, ‘You’ve got there and now you should enjoy it.’
“I try,” she said, smiling. “It’s not so easy but I try.”
The World Figure Skating Championships begin today with the men’s and pairs short programs. The women’s competition begins Thursday, and Kostner is not even the favorite in what could be the toughest field assembled since the Vancouver Games in 2010.
Olympic champion Kim Yu-na is back for the first time since 2011, and Mao Asada is the best she’s been since winning her second world title in 2010. The Russians have their best team since the days of Irina Slutskaya and Maria Butyrskaya. And don’t overlook U.S. champion Ashley Wagner, silver medalist at the Grand Prix Final.
“This might be one of the most challenging world championships in the ladies event we’ve seen in a while,” Wagner said. “To get onto that podium with everybody that’s competing here would be such a huge accomplishment, just because everyone is so talented.”
That Kostner was talented was never in question. Tall and lithe with the natural elegance of a ballerina, she makes even the simplest of stroking drills captivating. She may not have Asada’s power, but she’s a strong enough jumper to contend with the best.
She went to her first European championships at 16, simply hoping to make it out of the qualifying round. She wound up just missing a medal, finishing fourth overall.
The next year, she was fifth at the world championships.
Expectations can be a heavy burden, however, and Kostner struggled under the weight. Her bronze medal at the 2005 world championships made her a favorite for the Turin Olympics, and she was chosen to carry Italy’s flag in the opening ceremony. But she bombed in the short program and was only slightly better in the free skate, finishing ninth overall. A month later, she was 12th in the watered-down, post-Olympic field at the worlds.