Time to make waves


TURIN, Italy -- On the first day of the Winter Olympics, Kimmie Meissner met Laura Bush and heard Luciano Pavarotti and Peter Gabriel sing and Yoko Ono give a reading. But the person she was talking about after last night's opening ceremony at the Olympic Stadium was a U.S. women's hockey player, Kim Insalaco.

Insalaco, of Rochester, N.Y., approached Meissner before the ceremony and told her that the entire women's hockey team had been cheering for her at the U.S. figure skating championships last month in St. Louis because she and Insalaco shared the same first name.

Meissner, from Bel Air, was impressed by that. But then almost everything impressed her yesterday.

Of the opening ceremony, she said: "It was really awesome. There were so many neat parts that I couldn't pick just one."

Earlier in the day, Meissner, who finished second in the U.S. championships to earn her berth in Turin, held her first Olympic news conference.

By the time she left the Main Media Center, it was evident that she had left at least one thing behind when she packed for Turin: the triple axel jump that made her famous.

Although she danced around the question at the news conference, her coach made it clear that the difficult jump will not be part of Meissner's long program.

"You guys can plan on her not doing a triple axel," Pam Gregory said afterward. "This year it's going better than last year, but last year she seriously had nothing to lose. She was a first-year senior lady."

At the 2005 national championships, Meissner became the first U.S. woman since Tonya Harding in 1991 and the sixth ever to land the jump with 3 1/2 rotations. The gamble catapulted her to the bronze medal.

But Gregory has insisted that Meissner cannot add an element to her program unless she performs it five consecutive times in practice.

At this year's nationals, the 16-year-old Fallston High School senior did not attempt one, relying instead on two triple-triple combinations in her long program to earn the silver medal.

The triple axel, which Meissner calls her quirky friend, has been playing hard to get in recent weeks, leading to Gregory's decision.

"They felt pretty good last week, but I still don't feel 100 percent with them," Meissner said.

Of course, Gregory has made exceptions. At the 2005 nationals, the coach made a deal with Meissner: Land two out of three in practice and the jump was in.

Meissner accomplished that and hit another in warm-ups for good measure.

But more is at stake now, Gregory said, so the likelihood of a last-minute deal is slim.

"She is really prepared," Gregory said. "Then, it's [up to] her nerve, and she has a lot of it."

Meissner said she's excited, but not nervous, and she doesn't feel any performance pressure.

"I'm just going to go for it. I have nothing to lose," she said. "I'm going to put in as much [difficulty] as I can and hope I skate clean. I can definitely win a medal."

The rest of Meissner's news conference was a wide-eyed look at the Olympics, the Olympic Village she'll call home, the vast wardrobe from Winter Games sponsors.

Her room is small, "cozy," she called it. Even more so because she's sharing it with Gregory. The youngest U.S. Olympian felt more comfortable having someone familiar around.

"It's like having a sleepover," she said.

Her mother arrived yesterday, and her father, brothers, grandmother and cousins will follow next Saturday.

With her teachers granting her a reprieve from homework, Meissner is hoping to do a little sightseeing and meet famous teammates, such as speed skater Apolo Ohno, in the days before competition begins Feb. 21.

"I met him once, but he probably won't remember me," she said. "Maybe he will now." candy.thomson@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Randy Harvey contributed to this article.

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