MOSCOW -- Carolina Kostner doesn't mind that figure skating tends to be a young woman's game.
The Italian skater and five-time European champion will turn 31 the day before the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang next month. In a sport that prizes youth - five of the past six Olympic women's champions were aged under 20 - Kostner is an extreme outlier.
These days, she skates against teenagers who grew up watching her on TV. The current European champ, 15-year-old Alina Zagitova, was barely 7 months old when Kostner first competed at the continental championships.
The Italian, who won Olympic bronze in 2014 and is seeking Pyeongchang medals as an individual skater and for Italy in the team event, said her experience allows her to keep up with younger skaters.
"You have to go with time. I cannot train like I trained when I was 16, but it's also not only physically, it's also mentally," she said in an interview after winning bronze at last week's European championships. "You have to find the right way to challenge your body and challenge your mind at the different stages of life.
"I've felt really good, I've felt really bad, I've felt not nervous at all, I've felt very nervous and scared," she added. "You basically know you can handle any situation, and the fun part now is that my body's still improving."
It's been a long time since the 2003 world championships, when Kostner says she froze upon meeting her idol Michelle Kwan for the first time in a warmup.
"It was a shock," she said. "I couldn't move."
Kostner's European championships wouldn't seem the ideal preparation for the Olympics. With a shot at gold after the short program, she fell on her first jump in the free skate and finished well behind Zagitova and fellow Russian star Evgenia Medvedeva.
"It gives me the right input on what I still need to work on. It's good, bringing me back to reality," she said. "(But) it was quite difficult to fall asleep, because your head is trying to figure out - 'What can I do better? What went wrong? Where was the turning point?'"
Since the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the Italian skater has served a 21-month ban for lying to drug-testing officials looking for her then-boyfriend Alex Schwazer, a race-walker who has twice served doping bans. Kostner is reluctant to talk about the ban, other than to say the experience helped her grow.
"I fall down. I fall down many times. But the important (thing) is to get back up," she said. "I do feel I've matured a lot and improved a lot in understanding movement, in understanding musicality, in concentrating on the details, in improving my technique. So many ways. And now what I wish for Carolina right now is just to believe in herself."
Away from the ice, Kostner is multitalented. She's happy chatting in several languages, has studied art history and ballet and has sometimes designed her own costumes.
After Pyeongchang, she hasn't ruled out continuing as a competitive skater, but admits she'd like to pursue other interests.
"There's so many things that have been on hold for so long that I'm really looking forward, after the Olympic Games, to dive into," she said.
Kostner's cousin, Isolde Kostner, is a three-time Olympic skiing medalist who retired shortly before Italy hosted the Winter Games in 2006.
"Back then I was just a little girl not understand why she would just stop before a big event in her home country," Kostner said of her cousin. "And she said: 'When the moment comes, you will know.' So I'm sure I will know."
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