By Pritha Sarkar
HELSINKI (Reuters) - When Carolina Kostner was slapped with a lengthy ban in 2015 for attempting to cover up her ex-boyfriend Alex Schwazer's use of illegal performance-enhancing substances, it seemed that her career had come to an inglorious end.
However, the enforced time out from the sport only served to deepen Kostner's passion for figure skating and now aged 30, the Italian was back competing at the world championships on Wednesday.
Having led a disciplined life during a career that earned her five European titles, six world championship medals and an Olympic bronze, there was no way she was going to allow outside forces to dictate the ending for her.
"I feel grateful I can skate here. You think you’ve done so many, but every championship has its own story, every skate has its own story and it is challenging," said Kostner, who missed the last two editions of the global meet.
Overcoming adversity is nothing new for Kostner.
In 2006, her Olympic medal hopes were destroyed as she suffered a meltdown in front of her home fans in Turin, landing on her bottom over and over again during her free skate.
It took her another six years to heal those painful wounds -- when she finally captured her first major global title at the 2012 world championships.
A bronze in the 2014 Olympics followed but then her world fell apart as she was banned in January 2015 for lying to doping officials about Schwazer's whereabouts when they came to collect a sample from the race walker for a drugs test.
Hence when she messed up a flying camel spin during her 'God of Thunder' short skate on Wednesday -- which left her eighth and almost 13 points adrift of leader Evgenia Medvedeva -- her approach was to "keep on fighting" instead of "getting angry about a mistake”.
Now coached by Russian great Yevgeny Plushenko's former coach Alexei Mishin, Kostner is not completely out of the running for a medal in Helsinki as her score of 66.33 has kept her within touching distance of third-placed Canadian Gabrielle Daleman.
"I’m very much aware that I cannot stay out (of the sport) and then hope that everything will fall into your lap," said the oldest competitor in the women's field.
"For me it’s not so much about the chase for a medal but about the journey.
"My skating today was not the best... but I hope I can share my love and my passion for figure skating and I’ll try to share the moment with the audience that loves figure skating as much as I do."
(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Toby Davis)