Carolina Kostner isn't talking much these days, but she sent a very loud message to her competitors last month at the European Championships in Estonia.
Kostner, who is not doing any media interviews until she arrives in Vancouver for the Olympic Winter Games on Friday, has struggled throughout the season but pulled her skating together to capture her third European title. In Tallinn, Kostner defeated 2009 European Champion Laura Lepistö of Finland and Elene Gedevanishvili, who represents the country of Georgia.
"Oh sure, she sent a message,'' said Christa Fassi, who has been working with Kostner in Southern California since last June. "She has more confidence since the European Championships. The European Championships were the easiest competition I have ever had with a skater because she was in her element.''
Not that Kostner was perfect in Estonia. She wasn't. But she landed a triple flip-triple toe loop combination in her free skate performance to "Air'' by Bach. She did, however, pop another flip and missed her triple loop.
But the competition was a step in the right direction as she heads to Vancouver.
"This competition felt like a liberation for me, and I enjoyed skating,'' Kostner told reporters in Estonia. "The title means the same as the other two, but it was the hardest one for me. Sometimes you forget how difficult it is to skate for the audience and the media and in front of the judges.
The winning performance also bolstered Kostner's metal preparedness.
"It was a really good training for my head. I think I did it well. My first emotion was that I felt a little angry, that I popped the flip. The mistake threw me a little off. But in general I'm very pleased. I feel that I'm on the right way and this result here gives me confidence.''
In a short period of time, Fassi said she has been able to establish a strong working relationship with Kostner, who represents Italy. It helps that Fassi's late husband, Carlo, was a skating legend in Italy. The Fassis are often credited with developing many American stars in the wake of the 1961 plane crash in which the entire U.S. world figure skating team, along with officials and coaches, were killed.
It has been wonderful working with Carolina,'' said Fassi, who coaches Kostner along with Frank Carroll at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, Calif. "She really is the nicest young lady, and I have nothing bad at all to say about her. Everybody loves her here''
One of the main things Fassi said she has been able to help Kostner with this season is helping her regain her passion for the sport.
Kostner emerged on the world scene in 2003 when she made her debut at the World Championships and placed 10th. By the 2005, she was the world bronze medalist and considered a top contender for the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, which were held in Torino, in Kostner's home country. What was supposed to be a banner year turned out to be a disaster. She placed ninth in the Olympic Winter Games and 12th at the World Championships.
She regrouped, and by 2008, she had climbed all the way to the No. 2 spot at the World Championships. But the following year, at the 2009 World Championships, she fell again to 12th.
Kostner, who possesses perhaps the most speed of any female figure skater, was quickly falling out of the limelight once again. Her passion began to dwindle and she decided to change coaches and move to the United States.
This season didn't begin much better, as Kostner placed sixth in both of her Grand Prix competitions, in France and China.
"You're right,'' Fassi said. "It hasn't been easy for her. She told me she hadn't been that happy last year in Germany. When you're happy, it helps with everything.''
How has Kostner, an Italian, adjusted to life as a California girl?
"Are you kidding?'' Fassi said. "She loves it here. It's 80 degrees here today. How can you not love it?''
And it helps when you win.
As Kostner said at Europeans: "When I have fun, I skate well.''
Fassi said they are not making any major changes to Kostner's programs for Vancouver, although Fassi noted that "We are just trying to get rid of any mistakes from Europeans.''
Following her European Championship victory, Kostner suffered from a bad cold. But now, Fassi said,
Kostner has recovered and has been training well.
Kostner actually trained a bit on her own this past week. Her usual training mates, American world champion Evan Lysacek and U.S. silver medalist Mirai Nagasu, are already in Vancouver. And Fassi, meanwhile, was in Germany with numerous relatives to celebrate her mother's 100th birthday.
In her day-and-a-half trip across the Atlantic, Fassi made time to contact Kostner for training updates.
Fassi was in Germany on Feb. 12, the day of the Opening Ceremony, but plans on watching a taped broadcast later.
As for now, she is doing her best to keep things as normal for Kostner as possible, even though her biggest competition is around the corner.
"It's much better for her this way,'' Fassi said. "We will be there three days before the competition, and we did the same before Europeans.''
The bonus is that there will be no time difference when they arrive in Vancouver.
Once they arrive in Canada, Fassi knows Kostner will have her work cut out for her. Kostner knows what Nagasu is capable of doing since they see each other train daily. And she's well aware of Korea's Yu-Na Kim and Japan's Mao Asada and Miki Ando, Canada's Joannie Rochette and American champion Rachael Flatt.
"It's a very competitive field, put it that way,'' Fassi said.
But at least now Kostner has put herself in position to compete.