Carolina Kostner returned on to the competitive stage end of 2016 after sitting out two and a half seasons.
Q= Interviewer Tatjana Flade for ISU, C: Carolina Kostner
Q: You said earlier that your return was not a comeback, but a continuation of your career. Looking back at this past season, how do you feel about it?
C: The great thing is that I felt so much joy. It is hard to assess what I was able to do, because I did not start where I had left. I changed so many things that it was difficult to set specific performance goals. I believe the goal in general was just to find the right practice atmosphere and to put together the right team. I think we did that pretty well. Therefore, I felt joy, but also some nervousness. It was not so easy to get back into the competition stress. Everyone is feeling it and you need to get used to it. This is something you cannot really practice.
Looking ahead, I’ll have more opportunities to practice that before the big events, which is great. On the other hand, I basically started from scratch physically and that is not so easy. The body needs a certain time to get used to a certain intensity of training and I needed to do that gradually in order to avoid injuries. Injuries cost a lot of time. That is like taking two steps forward and one backward. After the season we sat down to assess what is the situation now, what do I need, what was good and what could have been better. Considering that I started to prepare for competitions only in September, it was a really great season. I felt how I improved in between Europeans and Worlds. Maybe I wasn’t able to really show it in competition at Worlds. My practices were better, the consistency of jumps was better, the movement was more fluid and easier. I might have felt the nerves in competition which held me back a little. I think this will get better when I do more competitions.
Now I enjoy the nice time to work on my weaknesses. Now I can train very well, finish the day and say that I did what I planned and don’t have to say ‘enough for today. I’ve reached my limit and I need to start fresh tomorrow’.
Q: You are starting at a much higher level this year.
C: Last year we really had to work on double jumps while we can work on triples this year. This is more fun and motivates me. It wasn’t easy, though (last year) and I needed patience. I am not an impatient person, but it cost me more patience than I expected and it was harder than I expected. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but in some moments I struggled. When you are lying on the ground every day, you really ask yourself ‘is this my way?’. It was my decision to continue, because I love it from all my heart.
I enjoy practicing and I have the opportunity to work with one of the best teams. To work with Alexei (Mishin) as technician and Lori (Nichol) as choreographer is a great combination for me. I feel that I don’t have to prove anything. I don’t have to prove anything to myself and I just can focus on what I want to learn and to get the best out of me and that is all. And to share it with the people. I believe that skaters have the opportunity to create these wonderful moments. Thinking of Helsinki and Ostrava, these are moments. You are planning, you are practicing and you are hoping, but there is no switch. A lot of different elements come together and it is amazing when it becomes reality. It is also about the time you spend with the skating family, to see many friends again, to be there and to get excited.
Q: You said there were moments that were difficult for you and you struggled. Did you think of giving up?
C: No, but I had to kind of argue with myself about the stress with time. I had to tell myself, ‘okay, maybe you just need some time. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You continue to work every day and when it comes, it comes’. Work always pays off. You’ll get back what you invest. Maybe it won’t happen the way you imagined, you visualized or you wanted it, but always something comes back and we can’t always decide ourselves about it. We are so used to going to the supermarket and to get everything we want these days. You don’t have to wait for anything anymore and therefore there were moments when I said – ‘okay, I am at this point now. What can I do for it? What can I do differently? And when it doesn’t work, then it just doesn’t work. There is not so much pressure anymore.
Q: You don’t need to force anything.
C: Yes, and it is a great feeling that I don’t feel this kind of constraint. It is really just my decision. And I know that this moment (to decide about retirement) will come for sure. My cousin, the skier (Isolde Kostner), once told me ‘the moment will come when you feel exactly that you want to stop now’. I didn’t feel that yet, but it will come and then there will be a new chapter for me. Until then it (competing) is something that I can do only now and I am very aware of that. I am trying to pass this on to the younger skaters and I am telling them ‘it is a privilege what we can do and let’s try to make the best out of it’. Other people are going to the office every day and work there. We can move around, touch people emotionally, travel and learn. I hope that I am able to pass this on to the younger generation. Looking back, this is what I missed a bit, I think – an example, especially in Italy. Barbara (Fusar Poli) and Maurizio (Margaglio, ice dancers), Federica (Faiella) and Massimo (Scali, ice dancers) and myself built skating (in Italy) more or less from scratch. We were not so lucky to have this tradition like they have in Russia with lots of touchable examples.
Q: Yes, in Russia, the young skaters can watch how their idols train.
C: Exactly, and I didn’t have that as a young girl. Maybe I can, not just in Italy, pass something on to younger girls and boys, especially girls, can encourage them and remind them that skating is a joy. Sometimes, when we have a bad practice, we project it and have the feeling of being worthless and when we fall we feel that we are not good enough. But that is not true. Everyone is good enough and beautiful in him- or herself. Someone can do this better, someone can do that not so well. Someone has a good day, someone has a bad day. But that does not change the person we are outside of skating when we take off our skates.
Q: True, each person is valuable.
C: This is very important, because this (feeling of being not worthy) sometimes leads to depression or anorexia for young girls. This is dangerous and it is important to point out that skating is healthy and positive. However, that doesn’t mean that it is always nice and funny.
Q: Obviously there are always tough moments like injury or failure.
C: Even the practices where you have to go beyond your own limits a bit in order to improve. If I am only practicing what I already can do, the bar stays where it is. You need to understand that it is okay to fall and it is okay to maybe not manage to do something and it doesn’t mean that I am worthless.
It is very important to me to inspire the young generation. I see in Italy a lot of young girls and boys that are motivated, that really want it and that are talented. There are talented young skaters in each country. It is about guiding them the right way, helping them and showing them that it is possible (to achieve something) if they are working hard, patient and have courage. A lot of factors come together. Then you can get the best out of yourself and this is the most important thing. Unfortunately, there is only one spot on the top of the podium, but there is a victorious moment for you personally as well – when I learned something new or I compete in an event where I wanted or maybe I land a new jump.
Q: What have you done following the World Championships?
C: I was at home. I am usually splitting my time between St. Petersburg (Russia) and Toronto (Canada) and so I spent some time with my family. My brother Simon had play offs in the Alpine Ice Hockey league and they won the title. I watched many of his matches and was with him on some occasions. My family gives me strength as some things happened in the past two, three years in the family. We lost our grandmas for example, we grew closer. The time I spend with my family gives me a lot of strength to go travelling again.
Q: How long have you been with your family?
C: Almost for a month. Then I was for some time in Rome, where my sports group (army sports group) is based. I trained off ice there and geared my body up. First I recharged my soul, then I slowly geared up my body. Then I came to the training camp (of Alexei Mishin) in Tartu (in mid May). However, I wasn’t really away from the ice for long. At home we also had ice and when I felt like it I went skating. I can’t really be without it! But it was nice to get up in the morning, have breakfast and take it easy. We have such a fixed schedule the whole year, because our training times are booked. It is not like for a runner or a cyclist, who just takes the road. We are bound to times and to punctuality. So it was nice not to have any major schedules at home, to meet my friends, just call them and ask ‘do you have time for a cup of coffee’? In St. Ulrich (her hometown), you can get everywhere within ten, 15 minutes by bicycle. I helped my mom cooking, too. All this is something you need when you are away so much, I think.
Q: What is you plan now for the preparation of the season?
C: I went to Fantasy on Ice in Japan. I am always looking forward to going to Japan and perform in shows, because these are two different directions of the same art. In shows, I can work with emotions and with the music. Then it’s back to training, I am going to Mishin’s camp in Courchevel (France) and then to Canada to Lori. There we’ll confirm the music and we’ll check if the rules have changed. We are getting into the programs from there.
Q: Do you want to do some events outside the Grand Prix in the first half of the season?
C: The goal is to do one or three. I am really looking forward to Worlds in Italy. The whole team is looking forward to it. Our team really has gelled over the past few years. There are a lot of skaters who have been around for many years and with a lot of experience. It is great and I was so happy to be part of it again. They welcomed me as if I never had left.
Q: What can you tell us about your programs?
C: Nothing has been confirmed yet. I am looking for something that is ‘me’, something colorful, something that brings me joy. I would like to bring the joy I feel on to the ice. Obviously you are looking for a music that suits you, including the rhythm. When I am going through my past, I did so many different things that it is hard to make a choice. There are so many kinds of music that I like and Worlds is in Italy … we’ll see where it will take me.
However, I think that you need to listen to the music on the ice and then you feel inside if it is prompting you to move and to dance. Sometimes there is music that is wonderful in the studio and that has the right recipe – a big final or climax, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. Then you go on to the ice and it is nice, but it is like, you know – it is nice but nothing special. There your experience comes into play and you can say ‘no, that’s not it’ after working with the music for two or three days. We’ll be very flexible with that. I’ve been in situations before when I changed my music, like in December 2013. I think you always should try it, but when it doesn’t work, you need to accept that. You can change it. It is only difficult to give something up when you have fallen in love with it. However, if there is a change, it is another opportunity to take a step forward, to find something different that is also beautiful. I believe there is no perfect choice. There are excellent choices and others that make it difficult.
Q: Thank you very much for the interview and all the best for the upcoming season!