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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 23, 2010

Figure skating: Italy's Kostner wins European gold for 3rd time


JIM HEINTZ
Associated Press Writer

TALLINN, Estonia Carolina Kostner won her third European figure skating gold on Saturday, a much-needed turnaround after a string of mediocre results this season.

"This competition felt like a liberation for me," said the Italian, who has suffered through a disappointing Grand Prix season and a disheartening second-place finish in the national championships. "Now I know I am on the right way and that gives me a lot of confidence."

"I think I have nothing to fear from Vancouver."

With the Winter Olympics starting in three weeks, Kostner can use some confidence. The formidable array of Asian and North American skaters likely to appear in Vancouver are enough to give pause even to Europe's best.

Neither Kostner nor the other women's medalists Laura Lepisto of Finland in second and Elene Gedevanishvili of Georgia in third showed quite the level of steely skills or sparkly presentation that their Vancouver rivals can muster. All three vacillated between errors and assurance in the free programs.

Kostner started well with a triple flip-triple toe loop and then a well-landed triple lutz a jump that had been largely eluding her this year. But then came a single flip instead of a triple, a fall on a triple loop and the sense that her lead was slipping away before she recovered. The program to the music of Bach and Vivaldi ended with her characteristically lithe and elegant spins and steps.

Gedevanishvili, who had started the day in fourth, slightly outscored Kostner on technical marks, but was five points behind on components. Skating to some of "Carmen's" most tuneful segments, she landed a pair of double axel-double toe loops along with an early triple-triple-double toe loop cascade and seemed unfazed by errors that included stepping out of her opening triple lutz.

"Oh my god, this is totally unexpected. It means a lot to me," she said.

Lepisto, the defending champion, opened with a high triple toe-triple toe, but then doubled a triple lutz. Despite some other flaws, including a hand down on one jump, she ended the day with a sense of equanimity.

"I didn't feel a lot of pressure. My main goal was to get a spot for the Olympic Games and I'm very happy about that," said Lepisto, who was having boot problems.

Compatriot Kiira Korpi, who started the day in second, ended in fourth, while the other Finnish skater, Susanna Poykio, withdrew before the free skate with back pains.

The Russian women, who once dominated the discipline, continued their underwhelming showing of recent years. Alena Leonova was slow and error-ridden and dropped from fifth to seventh. Russian national champion Ksenia Makarova placed ninth.

But Russians took all the other golds in Tallinn: Evgeni Plushenko in men's, Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov in pairs and ice dancers Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin.