Time to push the panic button? Time to buy Kimmie Meissner a gold retirement watch and thank her for her service to figure skating?
Not so fast. Rome, as skating analyst Julius Caesar used to say, wasn't built in a day.
Meissner, who suffered through another poor performance last weekend at Skate America, is a puzzle at this point in her career. Good practices and good warm-ups but bad when the judges are watching.
That's not the recipe for a championship.
From a resume standpoint, the skater from Bel Air has checked most of the boxes - Olympic appearance, world title and national championship - all by the age of 18. Meissner, now 19, is one of only two U.S. women to land a triple axel, the other being Tonya Harding, she of knee-whacking fame.
But from December 2007 until now, it has been as if Meissner were kidnapped by aliens and replaced by a duplicate, albeit one who prefers another sport. After winning gold and silver during last year's Grand Prix season, she finished last at the Grand Prix Final and seventh at nationals and worlds. The performance at worlds was considered a triumph given the meltdown at nationals.
Changing coaches and training sites, Meissner set out to reclaim her place as one of America's best. But in less than seven minutes of skating, she had three falls and finished eighth.
The skater looked bewildered when she met with reporters. Her primary coach, 36-year veteran Richard Callaghan, was grim-faced.
Her next Grand Prix event is three short weeks away in Moscow.
So, what to think? Here, in no particular order, is a list of 10 reasons now is not the time to give up:
•Meissner has thrown out the playbook. She's getting new advice on the ice, being tutored by a master ballet instructor off the ice, living on her own for the first time and trying out all that "growing up" stuff, such as cooking, shopping and paying bills. That's a lot to be juggling. It will sort itself out.
•Callaghan and Meissner's other coach, Todd Eldredge, have called their pupil "a work in progress." The skater said her teachers "are tearing me down and rebuilding me." In other words, if you want instant gratification, look elsewhere.
•With the Olympics 15 months away, no one wants to peak at Skate America. As three-time U.S. champion Johnny Weir said: "I don't want to be at the top of my game this year when I just have to do it all over again next season. Next season is the season to kill yourself. ... It's definitely all about the building blocks of getting to the Olympics."
•Though it's never a good idea to perform poorly at a Grand Prix event, it's not the end of the world, especially when it's the first event of the season. The $18,000 prize for first place is nothing to sneeze at. Neither is the $9,000 for winning the bronze medal. But it's only the first event of the year. The goals are the U.S. title, to be awarded in January, and the world championships in March.
•Like the routines themselves, figure skaters can be up and down. Take, for example, the career of Shizuka Arakawa. In her career, she won just one Grand Prix event. She placed eighth at world championships in 2003, first the next year and ninth the year after that. And then she went out and earned gold at the 2006 Olympics, the only medal Japan won.
•Arakawa's coach until the weeks leading up to her world title? Callaghan, who also trained six-time U.S. champion Eldredge, 1998 Olympic champion Tara Lipinski and 1995 U.S. champion Nicole Bobek.
•If that's not enough, remember the lesson of Paul Wylie. At the 1991 world championships, Wylie finished 11th and a prominent judge called his coaches to urge Wylie to retire to make room for younger skaters. At the 1992 U.S. championships, "a lot of people were angry that I was there," Wylie recalled. But five weeks later at the Olympics, the oldest man on the ice won the silver medal. "The beauty of redemption is my story, and I want that for other people who have been kicked to the curb," he said. "Kimmie Meissner is far from done."
•U.S. figure skating officials obviously haven't given up hope. Before the season started, they put Meiss- ner on the "A Team," giving her $15,000 in financial assistance for training expenses, the top amount. Former champion Scott Hamilton said: "She's such a good role model. She's exactly the kind of skater you want to be out in front of your program."
•Unlike the previous two years, when Meissner went to Paris for her second Grand Prix event, this year's Cup of Russia will be a new venue. Callaghan likes the change of scenery. "It's hugely positive," he said. "New events, new situations bring out creativity and inspire you."
•It's still a sport. Anything can happen, as Meissner herself noted: "That's why you compete. You can never say for certain what will happen unless you're Michelle Kwan or Michael Phelps."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun