Back to normal, but not for long

Competing in the Olympics may have been the easy part for Kimmie Meissner.

Upon returning to Bel Air this week, the 16-year-old will jump right back into her rigorous routine of three classes a day at Fallston High School and then hours of practice at the University of Delaware, while making up missed schoolwork and attending events in her honor.

And the world championships are just around the corner.

"There's no letdown for this kid at all," Ron Ludington, founder and director of the Ice Skating Science Development Center at the University of Delaware, said Friday. "Her letdown is as we're speaking."

Meissner was expected to stay in Italy for the closing ceremonies before flying back to Philadelphia tomorrow. She won't face the media blitz that might have followed a medal-winning performance, but she'll still be the most sought-after teen in Harford County. Bel Air has organized a parade at the end of this week, and state delegates want to bring her to Annapolis.

Back to algebra
In the meantime, Meissner has microbiology and algebra classwork to catch up on. After two weeks during which her focus was squarely on skating - she retreated to a remote rink in the mountains 90 minutes north of Turin to prepare away from the hype - the Fallston High junior will have to get back to her life as a student-skater starting Wednesday.

"For those two weeks, you've been a big celebrity, but all of a sudden it's like, 'Hey kid, let's get going,'" said Ludington, a World Figure Skating Hall of Fame member who won a bronze medal in the pairs competition at the 1960 Olympics and who has coached numerous Olympians. "She's got to zero right in on her training again."

Meissner's sights had been set on the 2010 games in Vancouver, yet she qualified for Turin and was competing as the only Olympian from Maryland and the youngest member of U.S. squad. When a strong performance Tuesday had her near the top of the leader board, many went to bed with visions of a medal dancing in their heads.

Though Thursday's finale seemed anti-climactic for some, Meissner's sixth-place finish was impressive to those in skating circles, who expect big things in her future.

"We're just really excited," U.S. Figure Skating Executive Director David Raith said Tuesday. "We have great plans for the next four years."

World championships
Next month, Meissner will be skating in the World Figure Skating Championships in Calgary. Less hype? Sure. Less important? Not a chance. From this point forward, Ludington said, Meissner is establishing her profile for Vancouver. She has Emily Hughes, who finished one spot behind her, in her rearview mirror.

With the Olympics and the world championships nearly back-to-back, school officials said they were almost surprised Meissner wouldn't take more time off before returning to class.


"Kimmie's an excellent student who works as hard in school as she does on the ice," said her guidance counselor at Fallston, Soubirous Sullivan. "She's the type of individual who never wastes time."

Since Meissner was a pupil at Hickory Elementary, the county school system has made special arrangements. A few years ago, the school board began offering online courses that Meissner keeps up with on a laptop when she's on the road for competitions.

"Often, she's said how she feels that she's a burden on teachers and others to make these special arrangements," said Donald R. Morrison, a spokesman for the school system. "That couldn't be further from the truth - we're only too happy to do it."

Meissner is expected to resume practicing Wednesday, and has at least one celebrity appearance lined up: the parade in downtown Bel Air at 4 p.m. on Friday that has an ever-burgeoning list of participants.

What started out as Meissner being driven down Main Street in an antique car along with the Fallston High marching band has swelled to include city and county police, firefighters, local and state politicians, and a snow plow.

"Everyone wants to be a part of it," said Bel Air police Chief Leo Matrangola.


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