At 15, Bel Air's Meissner ready to make jump up in class


HELSINKI, Finland - At this time last year, skating in her f irst International Skating Union Junior Grand Prix final, Kimmie Meissner was in awe.

Barely 14, just out of novice competition, lacking experience, she was amazed at the other skaters' jumping ability, such as that of future champion Miki Ando of Japan, who could do a quadruple jump.

Now, a year later, the Bel Air resident is a veteran at 15 as she enters her second Junior Grand Prix final.

She added the national junior title to her novice championship - one of the rare skaters to win both back-to-back - she made an impressive senior debut in the invitational Campbell's Classic in October against the likes of Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen and won the silver medal at the junior worlds in March in The Hague, Netherlands, though one of the youngest competitors.

And she is now the one practicing a difficult jump that few women can do - the triple axel.

Meissner is scheduled to skate the short program today at the Hartwall Arena, the site of the 1999 World Figure Skating Championships. The final program will be tomorrow.

Meissner will skate to Debussey's Reverie in the short program and to Daphnis and Chloe in the long.

Meissner, a Fallston High sophomore when she isn't oracticing, traveling or competing, qualified for the junior final again with seconds in Grand Prix meets Courcheval, France, and Long Beach, Calif.

From last year's final in Malmo, Sweden, where she placed fifth, to now, when she is in contention for a medal, Meissner is well aware of the difference.

"I think I really worked on my jumps this year. They are higher and I think my skating is a little more mature than last year," she said yesterday.

Her coach, Pam Gregory, concurs.

"I agree with that 100 percent," Gregory said, "especially her artistry, being more mature and like a senior lady."

Gregory coaches Meissner at the University of Delaware Figure Skating Club. Meissner and her mother, Judy, have made the hour drive almost daily for practices of four to five hours.

The move up to seniors also means a longer program than what she has been doing in the junior ranks - to four minutes, up from 3:30 in the long program.

"My thinking is more looking more ahead," Meissner said. "It's really exciting for me to go to nationals and skate. I've been training really hard and I think that I have that under control."

In Finland, Meissner is up against eight other skaters. The junior women's field has an extra skater because the home country is allowed a wild-card invitation and Kara Korpi is the Finnish representative.

Meissner began working on a triple Axel earlier in the season, coming close in the Liberty Open summer competition. However, a slight injury made her cut down her attempts.

"She had to stop working on them for almost two months because she had a back injury from doing them," Gregory said. "So we had to come back real slow, like three a day, for a week then three twice a day for a week.

"Unfortunately, it's a slow progression to make sure she's not injured or else she won't compete at all."

But t h a t doesn' t f a z e Meissner.

There is next year and the year after that. But in 2006, she will not be thinking about junior competition.

The Winter Olympics - something she is reluctant to discuss now - are scheduled that February in Turin, Italy.

And, something to remember: Tara Lipinski won Olympic gold in 1998 in Nagano, Japan, at 15 and Sarah Hughes was 16 when she won in 2002 in Salt Lake City.

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