HARTFORD, Conn. // One night after a sublime performance at Skate America that brought the house down and vaulted her into first place, Japanese teen figure skating sensation Mao Asada proved beatable.
Minutes after landing a triple axel in warm-ups, Asada crashed back to earth last night when it really counted, while Bel Air's Kimmie Meissner rose to the occasion.
As a result, Meissner, the reigning world champion, took the silver medal at the first stop on the Grand Prix circuit, finishing almost 15 points behind winner Miki Ando of Japan. Asada, who seemed to lose focus after botching the triple axel in the early moments of her long program, finished third.
After Friday's short program, Meissner was 10 points behind Asada and eight behind Ando. Performing her long program to "Galicie Flamenco," a Spanish tune, she hit six triple jumps on her way to a final score of 177.78.
"I'm glad I didn't go home," joked Meissner, a night after a Japanese reporter insinuated she was out of the running for the top two spots after the short program.
The performance wasn't flawless. She turned the back end of a triple-jump combination into a double. Near the end of her program, Meissner cut short the last two double jumps in a double axel-double toe loop-double loop combination.
"The double axel was weird, so I probably would have gone down. So it was just a judgment call out there," she said.
Her coach, Pam Gregory, called it the right move.
"Kimmie is very aggressive and likes to go for all the jumps. But this was a sound decision. At the Olympics, she did the same thing. She's one tough cookie," Gregory said.
While Meissner's performance wasn't razor-sharp, her skates were. She gashed her left middle finger during a catch spin and stemmed the trickle of blood with a tissue while she waited in the kiss-and-cry area for her scores. As the numbers were announced, Meissner hugged Gregory, waved to the crowd and did a little "Kimmie Shimmy" dance.
A clearly disappointed Asada refused to blame the pressure of being in first place for her meltdown. The teen was barred by age rules from taking part in the Olympics this year but won the Grand Prix finale.
After a dazzling short program and her seeming ability to land difficult jumps at will, it appeared the gold was hers. But Asada, 16, could not complete her first three jumps cleanly and didn't land a triple jump until more than halfway through her four-minute routine. Her technical and artistic marks were below Meissner's marks, and she finished with a score of 171.23.
Through a translator, she said, "I feel regrettable about today's results."
Asada's mistakes allowed Ando, 18, to take the lead with a nearly flawless routine that contained seven triple jumps and four double jumps, good for a score of 192.59. The Grand Prix win - Ando's first - revived a career that appeared on the downswing. The two-time national champion was injured last season and finished 15th at the Turin Olympics. But she got healthy, changed coaches and began the climb back to international prominence.
For Meissner, who finished fifth in her two Grand Prix events last season and got a late start on training this season, the second-place performance relieves some of the pressure as she prepares for her next Grand Prix competition, Trophee Eric Bompard in Paris on Nov. 16-19. She will face Ando again along with South Korea's Yu-Na Kim, who defeated Mao Asada to take the 2006 Junior World title.
• NOTES // Bulgarians Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski won the ice dancing competition, and Americans Rena Inoue and John Baldwin won the pairs event. ... Peggy Fleming, the 1968 Olympic gold medalist and owner with her husband of a California vineyard, has produced a wine - Victories Rose - to raise money for breast cancer research. The seven-year-old Fleming Jenkins Vineyards & Winery makes four other wines, including a syrah produced from grapes grown in the vineyard of football analyst John Madden. Fleming, a breast cancer survivor, says 100 percent of the net proceeds from sales of Victories Rose will be donated to organizations such as The V Foundation for Cancer Research and the Lombardi Cancer Center at Georgetown University.