Might as well jump

The Baltimore Sun

GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN -- Richard Callaghan has no idea why Kimmie Meissner lost her way -- and her U.S. and world figure skating titles -- over the past year.

What her coach of five weeks does know is that his star pupil is performing jump combinations she could not do before. And the triple axel, the difficult jump that deserted her, is making a comeback, if not here at the World Figure Skating Championships, then next season.

"Her talent is there," said Callaghan, who has trained Olympic, world and U.S. champions. "I've just been encouraging her to realize she's a great skater."

This is Meissner's first competition without longtime coach Pam Gregory, who guided her to the 2006 Olympics and gold medals at the 2006 world and 2007 U.S. championships. After a seventh-place finish at nationals in January, the skater replaced Gregory with Callaghan and joined him in Florida to train. The arrangement ends when this competition does.

In today's short program, Meissner will skate last of 53 skaters, a position she and he like for the potential to make a statement and leave a good impression with the judges.

Clearly, Meissner, 18, is having fun with the 61-year-old man she calls "Mr. C."

He laughs easily and allows Meissner to tease him about luggage lost somewhere between home and here that has reduced his wardrobe to the clothes on his back and a still-in-the-plastic-wrapper U.S. team jacket.

At her temporary training site in Florida, Callaghan is on the ice with Meissner, analyzing problems and offering solutions.

"Whatever I do, he's standing there. He's good for my confidence," Meissner said after practice yesterday. "He tells me what's wrong, but he also tells me what's right."

When the Bel Air teen said she wanted to put the 3 1/2 -rotation triple axel back into her training routine, Callaghan agreed.

"She wanted to get that going again, and she was doing them so well in practice, hitting five out of 10," said Callaghan, adding he'd like a higher percentage of completion before inserting the jump into her performance.

Peggy Fleming, 1968 Olympic gold medalist and television analyst, agreed with the strategy.

"It's important to do something more difficult than what's in the program," she said. "Then, what's in the program doesn't seem as hard."

But Fleming also likes the way Meissner is beginning to take control of her career.

"I think she knows the importance of this event and she knows what she needs to do. She's a bit overwhelmed with all the changes this year, but she's an intelligent young lady and a great competitor," Fleming said. "She hasn't put together the right team yet to get where she wants to go. She has to reinvent her style a little bit to become more expressive, more mature."

Although Meissner said she won't make a coaching decision until after this competition, the key to her new team might be Callaghan, a former skater and a veteran of the politics in which figure skating marinates.

He was the only coach Todd Eldredge ever had, guiding him to a world title and six national championships. He also coached Tara Lipinski to Olympic, world and national crowns and Nicole Bobek to her national title.

A coach for 36 years, nearly half of them while based in Detroit, he and his wife sold their home and recently moved to Coral Springs, Fla., and warmer weather. He hopes to work with a small group of skaters at Incredible Ice, the practice facility used by the NHL's Florida Panthers that is expanding its figure skating program, maybe with Meissner as its star.

"That's up to Kimmie," Callaghan said. "How she skates here will probably decide it. And if she does her normal daily job, she'll be up top."

On the ice -- A rare fall in the ice dance compulsories left Americans Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto in fifth place, five points behind leaders Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder of France. Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao of China led the pairs.


The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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