TOKYO // It can take Kimmie Meissner nearly a half-hour to walk the two blocks from the Meiji Jingo practice rink to the main venue at the municipal gymnasium.
Girls holding World Figure Skating Championships programs squeal, "Kimmie, Kimmie, please stop."
"That's a new one," says Meissner, 17, as she signs the sweet spot like any major leaguer. "I signed when I threw out the first pitch in Philadelphia, but not at a skating event."
She's not exactly Nanase Aikawa, a popular rock singer, but she is attracting a lot of attention, and not just from fans.
Crews from both Fuji Television and the NHK network have come to Maryland to do feature shows on the skater from Bel Air.
"Kimmie is very popular. Everyone knows her," said Hideki Nakaya, a writer for the newspaper, Chunichi Sports.
All this, even though Japanese skating fans have their own talented athletes to cheer at this event: Mao Asada, Miki Ando and Yukari Nakano.
Indeed, the official program mentions Meissner only in passing, concentrating instead on Asada and her teammates and former Japanese stars, such as 1992 Olympic silver medalist Midori Ito, 1994 world champion Yuka Sato and 2006 Olympic gold medalist Shizuka Arakawa. If Meissner had been counting on flying low and letting the full pressure of the spotlight fall on her rivals, it hasn't been completely successful.
"She is so easy to like. Her smile is warm and genuine," said Mayumi Fujimori, who waited outside the practice rink for a half-hour for Meissner's autograph.
Others nodded, bowed and beamed as Meissner approached.
"I'll tell you what, that's cool," said Meissner as she signed her picture with a black marker.
It's been a struggle regrouping after a 14-hour flight that began Sunday and a shortened practice schedule.
Tuesday, her first full day here, Meissner said her legs "felt like spaghetti." The next day, she was joined by teammates Alissa Czisny and Emily Hughes. All three looked a little ragged as practice began, but perked up as muscles remembered their jobs.
Debbie Czisny, the skater's mother, smiled as her daughter landed a triple jump.
"I knew her brain would be ready, but I wasn't sure about the body. I guess the brain ruled this time," she said.
Meissner's coach, Pam Gregory, agreed.
"Kimmie's getting her legs back. When competition starts, she'll be right there," Gregory said of her student. "Now, it's just a mental game, to stay calm and focused."
To keep things loose Wednesday, she hung out with Peggy Fleming, the 1968 Olympic gold medalist.
Autograph is Meissner's new signature move
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