New spin for Meissner

The Baltimore Sun

With six weeks to go before the World Figure Skating Championships, Kimmie Meissner has dropped her longtime coach in favor of one she hopes will provide a quick fix.

In: Richard Callaghan, who guided Tara Lipinski to Olympic, world and national titles and coached six-time U.S. champion Todd Eldredge.

Out: Pam Gregory, the Professional Skaters Association 2006 Coach of the Year, who had been Meissner's coach since 2003.

"It was hard to say goodbye for now. Pam and I have been together forever. This is only through worlds. After that, I don't know," said Meissner, 18. "But clearly something had to change. I couldn't go on like that."

Back-to-back meltdowns at elite competitions during the past two months left Meissner visibly shaken. She fell three times and finished last at the Grand Prix Final in December. Then, trying to defend her national title last month, she fell three times and finished seventh.

Despite her poor showings, U.S. skating officials named Meissner to the world team that will compete in Sweden, banking on her international experience that includes the 2006 world title and a sixth-place finish in the Olympics.

Without a good showing next month by Meissner, Ashley Wagner and Bebe Liang, the United States could lose one of three women's spots at the 2009 worlds, the last one before the Olympics.

So Meissner is putting college on hold and moving away from home for the first time to join Callaghan in Coral Springs, Fla., this week to begin training at Incredible Ice, the practice facility used by the NHL's Florida Panthers.

Callaghan is known as a tough and exacting coach, a "jump doctor" who drills the technical side of the sport. Eldredge, who worked with Meissner this season, is expected to take part in some sessions.

"I don't know much about him," Meissner said of Callaghan, "but he has already laid out what he wants me to do."

With Gregory, the Bel Air skater became one of only six women to win a U.S. title at the novice, junior and senior levels. They were close, even bunking together in the athletes' village at the Turin Olympics after their reservations were bungled.

When reached yesterday, Gregory said she did not want to comment.

But recently, the chemistry wasn't the same, not surprising in a sport in which coaches have the longevity of baseball managers.

During her decade-long reign at the elite level, Michelle Kwan relied on four coaches - including one season of self-coaching. Sasha Cohen left John Nicks for Tatiana Tarasova, only to ditch her after falling twice in the 2004 Grand Prix Final in favor of Robin Wagner, the coach of 2002 Olympic gold medalist Sarah Hughes. Then, a year before the 2006 Olympics, Cohen asked Nicks to take her back.

Callaghan began skating before he was 10 and competed in singles, ice dancing and pairs. His best performance came at the 1965 nationals when, at age 19, he finished fifth. He retired from competition and toured with ice shows for seven years before turning to full-time coaching.

In addition to Lipinski and Eldredge, Callaghan also guided Nicole Bobek to her 1995 U.S. title and for a time coached Shizuka Arakawa, who later earned the gold medal at the 2006 Olympics.

In 1999, Callaghan resigned his position at the Detroit Skating Club about the time a colleague and former student accused him of sexual misconduct more than 20 years earlier.

The U.S. Figure Skating Association and the Professional Skaters Association dismissed complaints against Callaghan by Craig Maurizi, a pairs skater and coach, citing a "lack of clear and convincing evidence."

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