NICE, France - Carolina Kostner of Italy won the world figure skating title Saturday, delivering a graceful performance of mesmerizing steps and spins for her first gold medal at a major event.
Patrick Chan of Canada captured the men’s title for the second straight year despite a flawed free skate that included a late tumble. He is the first man to win consecutive titles since the now retired Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland in 2006.
“It’s more special than the first to be honest. I had my doubts,’’ Chan said. “I think I kind of made it over the hump now.’’
Kostner, last year’s bronze medalist and the reigning European champion, buried her head in her hands at the end of a faultless free skate punctuated by flawless jumps that sent her rocketing up from third place in the short program.
“This is my 10th world championship and I can’t really describe how it finally feels to reach that dream,’’ the 25-year-old Kostner said. “Deep in my heart, I knew I had a chance to win. I trained so hard and I have beautiful programs, my main goal was to show how much I love figure skating.’’
Russia’s Alena Leonova had led after an innovative and energized short program. On Saturday, she made a slightly awkward landing on a triple lutz but otherwise skated cleanly to earn the silver medal.
Akiko Suzuki got the bronze for Japan’s third medal after Daisuke Takahashi and Yuzuru Hanyu earlier took silver and bronze in the men’s competition. It was the first time Japan has had two men on the podium.
Leonova, fourth last year, almost clipped the barrier with her skate after a triple flip-double toe loop. She also had a near miss with her emotions - she just about managed to stop crying as the crowd roared its approval for her first major tournament medal.
Ashley Wagner salvaged some pride after a tough few days for the American men and women with fourth place after placing eighth in the short program.
Wagner saved the Americans from the embarrassment of being down to only one spot at the 2013 world championships, the qualifier for the Sochi Olympics. The Americans needed to finish with a combined placement of 28 or better to keep their two spots, and Alissa Czisny jeopardized that with an abysmal performance that left her 22d out of 30 skaters.
But Wagner was brilliant, finishing third in the free skate to finish fourth overall.
“I’m through the roof right now,’’ Wagner said. “I was so nervous going into it. I think I managed my nerves very well . . . I did what I needed to do and it’s huge for me.’’
Two-time world champion Mao Asada couldn’t follow through on her opening triple axel, struggling on her triple toe loop, and also turning two other triples into doubles, dropping from fourth after the short to sixth overall.
Some of the crowd jeered when Chan won, perhaps because of his mistakes and Takahashi’s superb performance. Chan finished with 266.11 points, almost 6.5 points ahead of Takahashi.
“I knew when I got off the ice’’ I had won, Chan said. “I felt like I had won anyway, that opening [was great].’’
Hanyu, the 2010 world junior champion, was second in the free skate, but finished behind Takahashi because he was so far back after the short program.
“I heard the big crowd’s cheers so I knew Yuzuru had a perfect performance. I felt like, ‘OK, I have to do well, I can’t let him defeat me,’ ’’ Takahashi, the 2010 world champion, said of his 17-year-old teammate.
US champion Jeremy Abbott and Adam Rippon failed to win back a third spot for the Americans at next year’s world championships. Abbott and Rippon needed to finish with a combined placement of 13 or better, and Abbott was eighth and Rippon 13th.
Skating to the haunting sounds of Joaquin Rodriguez’s “Concierto de Aranjuez,’’ Chan piled up the points in the first part of his program, opening with a quadruple toe loop and also doing a quad toe-triple toe combination and a triple axel. His elegance quieted the awed crowd, only the whispers of his gliding edges breaking the silence. But he wobbled coming out of a triple lutz, blowing the rest of his combination.
“It was a jump I’ve been having trouble with this season,’’ Chan said. “On the highlight reel, it’s not going to look great. But mistakes here and there, it shows that I’m human, right?’’
He regained his composure and his momentum, only to come undone on his last jump. He pulled out of what was going to be a double axel and fell over.
“I guess it isn’t really normal that I don’t make a mistake, it’s kind of my thing to have a weird fall,’’ Chan joked. “I was late in the music so that may have been a factor. I rushed the take off. I’ve been pretty lucky not falling on it earlier in the season.’’
He twice lost his balance in Friday’s short program, both times just managing to stay upright. But on Saturday he knew he needed to score more than 170.26 points to win - his season’s best was 185.99 - and he did enough in the early part of his routine to avoid any embarrassment.
“I skated smart this week,’’ Chan said. “I made sure the little details added up and I still ended up on top.’’