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Injury derails Meissner's Olympic dream

Figure SkatingDiplomacyRostelecomKimmie MeissnerDeath

Just a week ago, Kimmie Meissner was talking about a comeback - from bad performances in recent years and from injuries that continued to nag her as she readied for a new season of figure skating.

Now her dreams of a second trip to the Olympics in February are over.

The former world and national figure skating champion from Bel Air has not recovered quickly enough from a dislocated right knee cap and tendinitis, which forced her to withdraw Thursday from both of her Grand Prix assignments.

In a text message to The Baltimore Sun, Meissner, 20, said she is not retiring from skating.

"I want to thank everyone who has supported me," she said. "My heart will always be in Maryland with the people who cheered for me first."

Meissner's coach, Richard Callaghan, said the skater was "very upset with the situation."

"She was having a great summer before the injury in August. I was truly confident that if she was skating at 90 percent of her capability, that she had an excellent chance to go back to the Olympics," he said. "It would be a shame if she got back to training and was in the best shape of her life by the time of nationals in January. But she has to comply with the rules."

Her decision has consequences beyond the prize money and points on the international circuit. Meissner was given a bye from having to qualify this weekend at regionals in Rockville for the U.S. National Championships because of the extensive amount of travel involved in competing in the Rostelecom Cup of Russia in Moscow, Oct. 22-25, and the NHK Trophy in Tokyo, Nov. 5-8.

That waiver is no longer valid because it was conditioned on Meissner skating in the Grand Prix events, said U.S. Figure Skating spokeswoman Scottie Bibb.

Putting personal wishes aside"For the United States to be represented properly, especially in an Olympic year, I feel I must put my personal desire to compete aside," Meissner said in a statement released Thursday.

The 2010 Olympics are in Vancouver, British Columbia, from Feb. 12-28.

Meissner moved back to Bel Air last month from her Florida training home to get physical therapy and to train on her own.

But she was struggling with the death in late August of a beloved aunt who had cancer. And she was preparing to move from the Fort Lauderdale area, where she had her first apartment, to Naples on the Gulf Coast to join Callaghan and coach Todd Eldredge, a six-time U.S. champion.

Meissner said she injured her knee when she attempted to pull out of a jump to avoid a younger skater who had drifted into her path. She landed on her right knee, which swelled and stiffened.

"I was working on the triple axel, and the kicker was I was having an awesome day. I decided to do one more. I guess I shouldn't have," she said last week. "I'm trying my best, but I don't want to jeopardize my health."

Although she was working on her routines and had added several jumps, Meissner said she could not perform her flips and lutzes without pain. In the end, she decided that she didn't want to go to Cup of Russia and compete against 2008 Worlds champion Mao Asada and 2007 Worlds champion Miki Ando without a full arsenal of jumps.

A quick riseMeissner grew up quickly in figure skating's spotlight only to suffer a shocking and swift decline. She was U.S. champion at the novice level in 2003, the junior level in 2004 and was the silver medalist that same year at the Junior World Championships.

In 2005, she came from nowhere to win the bronze medal at the U.S. Championships in a performance capped by a triple axel, a 3 ¿-rotation jump that had eluded every U.S. woman except Tonya Harding 14 years earlier.

By taking second place at the 2006 national championships, Meissner was named to the Olympic team - its youngest member - and finished sixth in Turin, Italy, in only her third international competition at the senior level.

When she returned, Bel Air threw a big parade in her honor. Harford County Executive David R. Craig said Thursday that he was concerned when he heard that she was injured.

"I remember when Kimmie was in fifth grade, and I was the assistant principal" at Southhampton Middle School, Craig said. "Her mother came in and sat down and said, 'We need for Kimmie to be able to leave school an hour early so we can drive to Wilmington.' She was just this cute little fifth-grader, and lo and behold, she grew up to be an Olympic star. She's been more than an ambassador [for] the area, she's been a really great woman, and a great ambassador for people her age.

"I was afraid something like this was going to happen. That's what happens when skaters get injured. But I know she'll be fine."

One month after her first Olympics, Meissner won the world title in her first try with a free skate filled with seven triple jumps, including two triple-triple combinations.

The next season, she medaled in her two Grand Prix competitions and then won the national title.

But then her good fortune deserted her. As the reigning U.S. champion, she entered the 2007 competition off a highly successful Grand Prix season. But she fell three times in her free skate and finished seventh.

Within weeks, she split with longtime coach Pam Gregory and began training with Callaghan.

Her 2008-2009 season was a shambles, and days before the U.S. championships, she withdrew because of a hip injury.

Last week, Meissner was looking ahead. Her knee felt better, her jumps were returning and she loved her short and long programs.

"I'm still trying to come back," she said. "The Grand Prixs are great, but it all comes down to nationals and then the Olympics."

Now, that will have to wait another four years.

Callaghan says whether she tries another comeback "is totally up to Kimmie. Age is irrelevant. Shizuka Arakawa won the [Olympic] gold medal at 24. Irina Slutskaya won a world title at 26. Todd [Eldredge] made his last Olympic team at 30. It's not age. It's conditioning and mindset."

Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Van Valkenburg contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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