ASSAGO, Italy – Italy’s home favorite Carolina Kostner skated a perfectly executed and evocative program to take a surprise lead over Olympic champion Alina Zagitova of Russia in the short program Wednesday at the world figure skating championships.
A former world champion coming off a fifth-place finish at the Pyeongchang Olympics just a month ago, the 31-year-old Kostner’s performance demonstrated both technical prowess and maturity in balletic moves that held the crowd. She was rewarded bonus points for her jumps, pushing her technical score uncharacteristically above her presentation marks for a personal best of 80.27. She skated fittingly to Jacques Brel’s “Ne me quitte pas,” or “Don’t leave me.”
At 15, Zagitova was shaky from the start of her elements. Holding the jumps for the end of the program, the Russian bobbled slightly on the triple lutz, triple loop combination for a slight penalty. She hit the triple flip with both arms up in the air, a trademark move, and a double axel with her arms tight for a total score of 79.51, well below her Olympic world record of 82.92.
Japan’s Satoko Miyahara finished third in a mostly clean program to “Memoirs of a Geisha,” while Olympic bronze medalist Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada finished fourth with negative marks on two jumps, putting her hands down on the double axel. Miyahara, who was fourth at the Olympics, had 74.36 points, and Osmond scored 72.73.
At twice Zagitova’s age, Kostner’s experience showed over the younger skater’s less-assured moves.
Kostner has been working with famed Russian coach Alexei Mishin since her comeback from a suspension for lying to doping officials on behalf of an ex-boyfriend and was playing to an adoring home crowd that has been cheering on her comeback and that grew to love skating by watching Kostner over the last decade and a half.
“The special moment for me was in the middle of the program, I had this passage where I could actually hear the silence,” Kostner said. “It was very special because if I think back 15 years ago when I started skating internationally nobody in Italy followed figure skating, and now there are many people sharing this passion with me.”
Zagitova, who was just a year old when Kostner skated at her first worlds in 2004, was making her own debut at the event. She gave her coaches a so-so sign with her hands as she waited for the marks to come up.
“I was nervous because this is my first world championships. Honestly I was more nervous here than at the Olympic Games,” the Russian said.
U.S. champion Bradie Tennell skated a personal and season best 68.76 at her first worlds, finishing seventh. The 20-year-old said she is treating her rapid transition from up-and-comer to national champion with an Olympics under her belt as “the new normal, because if I thought about it any other way I feel like it would become overwhelming.”
American Mirai Nagasu, who made an appearance at the Oscars between the Olympics and worlds, said she didn’t attempt the difficult triple axel, which few women have ever landed in competition, “so I could focus on the program and performing instead of the jumps.” She was in ninth place with 65.21 points. The third U.S. skater, Mariah Bell, was in 12th with 59.15.
The women’s free skate is on Friday night.
In pairs, Olympic gold medal winners Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany high-fived each other after scoring a personal-best 82.98 points to lead the short program with a lively flapper routine that had the crowd clapping and cheering along from the start. The only Olympic medalists in pairs to show up at worlds, Savchenko and Massot are up against Russia’s Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who were a whisker behind them at 81.29 points.
French pair Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres finished third despite her hands coming down on the side-by-side jump, scoring 75.32.
The battle for the podium in Thursday evening’s free will be tight, with another seven pairs scoring between 70 and 75 points.
U.S. national champions Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim scored 69.55, just below their hoped-for threshold of 70, in the short program to qualify for final free skate. Knierim came off the ice with a slash across his right eye brow, which he said he got when his partner and wife hit elbowed him coming out of the lift.
“It happens.” he said. “It’s not our first time doing the lift, so it’s ok.”
Scimeca-Knierim said that he couldn’t see after it happened “because we were going into the death spiral and he was like, “I can’t see you right now.” Her response: “Just go. Get it done.”
The second U.S. pair, Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay, failed to make it to the finals.
Associated Press writer Daniella Matar contributed to this report.
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