For Meissner, jumps and joy


TURIN, Italy -- Kimmie Meissner of Bel Air would have finished higher in the short program at the Winter Olympics last night except some judges didn't think her skating was as pretty as some of the other young women's. I'd like to know whom to blame.

Was it the French judge? The Russian? The Azerbaijani?

That's the problem with figure skating's new scoring system. There are now 12 judges, but three of their scores for each skater are randomly discarded, then the high and low scores from the nine remaining judges are eliminated. But the sport's officials won't tell us which judges' scores are used and which aren't. And of the scores that are used, they won't tell us which ones were tabulated by which judges.

Remember the good, old days, four long years ago, when the bias seemed so apparent in the pairs scandal?

Most of the judges who ranked the Russians first were from countries such as Russia, Poland and Ukraine, so, according to some experts, there obviously was a Communist plot against the Canadians. Of course, it could have been pointed out that the judges who ranked the Canadians first were from countries such as the United States, Germany and Canada.

So exactly which side was conspiring against the other?

Maybe both. Maybe neither. The judge who fixed the competition in favor of the Russians was French, and who ever knows whose side they're on?

But now, the sport's officials have taken the Cold War off the ice.

If it was the Russians or the Hungarians or the Romanians or someone from New Jersey who caused Meissner to be judged 11th for her artistic impression -- now known as program components, a title that can only be embraced by figure skating fans at MIT and Caltech-- we'll never know.

It could also be a moot point. The new judging system, which emerged from the wreckage of SkateGate in Salt Lake City, is too new for anyone, even the judges, to totally comprehend. But the important thing is that the judges seem to have gotten everything right here so far. I can't remember the last time that happened in the Olympics or the world championships or even a novice competition.

Meissner was judged 11th best for program components because that is pretty close to where she belonged. If she was underscored, it is more arguable that it was for technical elements, in which she finished fourth. She was, after all, the only one among the top five -- she finished fifth -- to land a triple-triple jump combination. The others didn't even try one.

Even Meissner didn't complain about her artistic scores, not that it's a good idea for figure skaters, especially not for one as young as she and just setting off on her international career, to second-guess judges. In her first world championship, France's Surya Bonaly cupped her hands around her mouth and booed the judges when she saw her marks flash on the scoreboard. You think she ever got the benefit of the doubt from the judges during her career?

She didn't. In her last major international competition, she did an illegal, in-your-face back flip as she skated past the judges one last time.

Meissner acknowledged last night that she was "stumbly" and "trippy" in her footwork.

"I guess the judges know what they're doing," she said. "So whatever I put out there, that's what they scored."

The fact is that she wasn't as graceful as Sasha Cohen or as commanding as Irina Slutskaya or as expressive as the two Japanese who are ahead of her, Shizuka Arakawa or Fumie Suguri.

But she was better overall than everyone else and more composed than most, even though she is only 16 and still learning what's expected at the elite level internationally. She should be proud of herself.

Will she win a medal?

Probably not. She is more than six points behind the first three going into tomorrow night's long program?

Can she win a medal?

Of course. Ice is slippery. The women ahead of her won't necessarily skate as well as they did last night. Who thought she'd be fifth after the short program?

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