Italy’s Carolina Kostner leads Europeans after short program; Finns Korpi, Lepisto follow

By Jim Heintz, AP
Friday, January 22, 2010

Kostner leads Euros after short program

TALLINN, Estonia — Carolina Kostner of Italy rebounded from her disappointing season with a clean and assured short program Friday, putting her in position to win her third European title.

In ice dancing, Russia’s Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin won again, riding the lead they built in the compulsory segment despite finishing second to Italy’s Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali in Friday’s free dance and the previous day’s original dance.

With the Winter Olympics beginning in three weeks, this is the last big forum for Europe’s top women to test their skills and nerves before heading to Vancouver. And, for some, their last chance to prove they deserve to be at the games.

Italy will decide who it is sending to the Olympics after the Europeans, and it’s not certain that Kostner, the 2008 world silver medalist, will win the spot. After a dismal showing at the worlds in March, she had a lackluster Grand Prix season and fell apart at the Italian championships, finishing second.

But Kostner was in strong form in Tallinn, landing her jumps lightly and precisely and displaying elegant lines in her spins and spiral sequence.

“I had a lot of fun tonight, and when I have fun I skate well,” said Kostner, the winner in 2007 and ‘08 before taking the silver last year.

Two Finns, Kiira Korpi and defending champion Laura Lepisto, were second and third heading into Saturday’s free skate.

Korpi, who finished fifth when the Europeans were in her home country last year, said she was bolstered by skating in Estonia. Finland and Estonia are just 50 miles across the Baltic from each other and their languages are closely linked.

“It was almost like skating in front of a home crowd,” Korpi said.

Her program to Middle East-tinged music was distinguished by a big double axel in which she seemed to briefly hang suspended in mid-air.

Lepisto put a hand down on the second part of a triple toe-triple toe combination, but shone later with a fast triple loop. She said she was having problems with one of her boots, but wouldn’t try to change until after the championships.

Elene Gedevanishvili of Georgia was in fourth place, five points behind Kostner. Alena Leonova of Russia, who showed strong promise with a silver and bronze in the Grand Prix series last year, fell on her triple-triple attempt and ended in fifth position.

World champions Domnina and Shabalin, who sat out this year’s Grand Prix series because of his knee troubles, had some twizzle-synchronization problems in their free dance to music from “The Double Life of Veronique.” The dance was full of emotion, including ersatz slaps, and an innovative lift in which she appeared to be doing the backstroke, but the overall “story” seemed as obscure as the inspiring film.

The Italians performed a program portraying the passions of a romantic couple moving to a new land. Their rotational lift, swift and light, was a standout. And at the end Scali reared his head back and gazed at his partner with joyous amazement.

His exuberance persisted despite the second-place finish.

“Tonight we found the feeling again. We are really really happy,” he said.

For the Russians, the gold wasn’t as shiny as it should be.

“There is a negative touch to it because our score is low,” Domnina said.

Last year’s champions, Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski of Russia ended with bronze, placing third in the free dance with the premiere of a program to a pop-tinged version of music from Stravinsky’s “The Firebird.”

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