Kimmie Meissner didn't bring a medal home from the Olympics, but she brought something that feels nearly as important. And this week, for the first time, she is finally able to test her newfound confidence on competitive ice.
Only a month has passed since the Bel Air teenager placed sixth in the Winter Games, but already she has noticed a difference in her on-ice performance.
"I think my skating, I'm going through something where I feel like I'm skating more mature," she said. "And I'm just more confident in everything that I do."
She showed the world's best skaters exactly that during qualifying for the World Figure Skating Championships in Calgary, Alberta, and she hopes to post a similar performance during today's short program, in which competition will begin at 12:30 p.m. Tomorrow's free skate will start at 2 p.m.
Before she even laces her skates today, though, Meissner has already put herself in position to at least sniff the podium. Two skaters who finished higher than Meissner in Turin have opted out of the world championships - Japanese gold medalist Shizuka Arakawa and bronze medalist Irina Slutskaya of Russia.
And in qualifying Wednesday night, Meissner vaulted past American silver medalist Sasha Cohen - at least temporarily. Meisnner nailed six triple jumps and posted a personal-best score of 113.84 points, 3 1/2 points ahead of Cohen.
Canada's Joannie Rochette topped the field, scoring 117.12. The only other skater ahead of Meissner is Japan's Fumie Suguri, just 0.04 of a point better.
Qualifying doesn't simply determine seeding at these championships. Each skater's qualifying score is multiplied by 0.25 and then added to the scores from the short and long programs. So Meissner has earned a slight boost. But there's no breathing room.
Following Wednesday's skate, she said she felt at home performing in front of a large crowd, an important lesson learned in Italy.
"I'm more comfortable," she said. "I guess I really feel like I belong now. I definitely feel I am where I'm supposed to be, and I can fit in with these other skaters."
At the Olympics, Meissner wasn't considered a serious threat for a medal. Backed by a strong short program, though, she finished better than most expected. She'd said before the Games she'd be pleased with a top 10 finish.
Success breeds expectations, though, and a ninth- or 10th-place finish might not be enough this time. While Meissner said she hopes to finish in the top six, clean performances today and tomorrow could put her in position to challenge for a spot on the medal stand.
"The expectations go up a little bit, but you've got to keep it in perspective," she said. "You want to do what you trained for, but not overthink it."
She is skating the same routines as in Turin, and though she expects to perform plenty of triples, she will not be attempting a triple axel in Calgary. Meissner is one of just two American women to successfully land a triple axel in competition.
Meissner returned to Bel Air from the Olympics and missed more than 1 1/2 weeks of practice. She said she battled cold symptoms and then suffered a ruptured eardrum tendon. The injury kept her from practicing her spins until just a couple of weeks ago.
Her scores Wednesday, similar to those from Turin, reflected difficulty with her spins. She lost points on her them, receiving mostly level-two scores. She made up for the problem with her strong jumping, though.
"I feel 100 percent now," she said Wednesday night. "I didn't get as much training as I wanted in that little period between the Olympics and worlds, but I still feel prepared."
With Michelle Kwan, Slutskaya and Arakawa at home, these championships seemed designed for Cohen to take the torch as the sport's best. But she struggled in qualifying, falling twice and stepping out of a triple toe loop.
"It was a little odd out there - not what I wanted," Cohen said following her qualifying effort. "But it's the beginning of the week and I have two more performances to go, so [I'll] just forget about it and start again on Friday. I felt fine. It's the first time I've skated on this ice, though, but no excuses."