Meissner takes a breath, gets set for U.S. nationals


HELSINKI, Finland - After an up-and-down skating weekend - both literally and figuratively - at the Junior Grand Prix final, Bel Air's Kimmie Meissner has nearly a month off before her next competition, the U.S. national championships Jan 9-16 in Portland, Ore.

She will prepare for her first official senior competition against skaters such as Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen. Kwan is the favorite, but there is also the jockeying for position with a distant eye on the 2006 Olympics.

The Fallston High sophomore had a bye to the U.S. championships this year because of her Junior Grand Prix assignments. A pair of seconds in the series qualified her for her second consecutive finals, where she finished third over the weekend despite a poor short program.

Last year, she finished fifth but moved up to second at the junior world championships in The Hague, Netherlands, three months later.

Now comes the competition against Kwan, who has been around at nationals for almost as much time as Meissner has been around. Kwan's first nationals was in 1992. Meissner was born in 1989.

In fact, Meissner remembers the first time she saw Kwan compete at the nationals. Meissner was 8, and Kwan was already working on her second national title in Philadelphia.

"To me, that was, like, really awesome," Meissner remembered. "I remember watching her when I was a little kid. I never thought I would see her, let alone skate against her now."

Last October, Meissner had that chance, getting a late invitation to the Campbell's Classic.

"It was little intimidating to be at the practice session with her ... but doing that put it into perspective. She's just a skater, and they do make mistakes."

Meissner found that out personally at Helsinki.

She popped the triple lutz jump in Friday's short program, which put her in seventh place.

Then she came back in Saturday's free skate, the second best on the evening, and bounced from seventh to third.

"I got here, and all week the lutz was really wacky," Meissner said. "I think I got here and I was rushing a little bit - or a lot."

Then she went out on Saturday and did two of them, including one in a combination.

The way Meissner came back pleased Pam Gregory, who coaches Meissner at the University of Delaware skating rink in Newark.

"I am mostly proud of her for her courage and for her competitive spirit," Gregory said. "She didn't get down about it. She was a good sport. She still performed. She doesn't flinch. She is extremely tough mentally."

Meissner can't qualify for the world championships this year because she turned 15 in October. She would have had to be 15 on July 1 to have a chance at the world championships next March in Moscow.

But then there's the following year, when she will be eligible, unlike the person who beat her in Helsinki, Mao Asada. Despite becoming only the fifth woman and first in junior ranks to do the triple axel, the Japanese skater is not eligible for the Olympics, having turned 14 in September.

However, Meissner refuses to rule out herself for the Turin Games in 2006.

"It would be really cool. It would take a lot of hard work and a lot of energy," she said.

In addition to placing high at the nationals, Meissner has an unusual goal.

"A personal goal for me is to do skating so the people in the nosebleed sections could see what I was doing," she said. "I will have to make all my moves bigger."

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