Meissner will take new moves for spin

After a season that included winning the world figure skating championship and finishing sixth at the Olympics, Kimmie Meissner is ready to start over.

Next week, the Bel Air teenager will start working on new routines that judges and fans will see when she begins her second year on the Grand Prix circuit.

Despite jumping from novice level to world's best in three years, Meissner harbors no illusions that she has it made.

"I'm going to approach this year the way I did last year and the year before," said Meissner, whose first event is likely to be in late October at Skate America, the season's first Grand Prix event. "I'm still a little bit under the radar because worlds were right after the Olympics, and it didn't get the attention it would in other years."

Choreographer Lori Nichol, who has designed programs for Michelle Kwan and 2002 pairs gold medalists Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, said this might be the young skater's toughest year.

"The expectations get huge. They almost get out of hand," said Nichol, who is starting her third season with Meissner. "She has to work hard and know that it is the beginning of a new four-year cycle."

Doing well on the elite international level and defending her world championship are high on Meissner's immediate agenda, but her No. 1 goal is to win the U.S. title in January.

To get there, she and coach Pam Gregory and Nichol shelved last year's short and long programs in favor of fresh routines they hope reflect her growth.

Next week, Meissner will visit Nichol's Toronto office to tackle the hardest and most contentious component - the music.

"The bottom line is, it's what motivates the skater. It's what they love to skate to. They have to skate to it every single day," Nichol said. "They have bad days and good days skating, and they have to want to get back on the ice to do that program to that music."

Two years ago, Meissner loved the first thing Nichol played for her: Ravel's "Daphnis and Chloe," a piece to which the skater performed when she won the bronze medal at the 2005 nationals.

But last year, it was three days of nonstop listening as Meissner rejected Nichol's suggestions of skating to a piano concerto. Meissner wanted something bigger and fuller, something Nichol worried was too advanced for a skater with little elite international experience.

"I like piano music, but I can't skate to it," Meissner said. "At least I don't think so."

Finally, the choreographer played a CD she had set aside with another skater in mind. Respighi's "Queen of Sheba" was music to Meissner's ears.

"She definitely knows what she wants," Nichol said. "We just have to find the music for it. ... Who knows how long it will take this year?"

Once Meissner settles on the sound, Nichol and Gregory will incorporate the spins, spirals and jumps.

The triple axel, the 3 1/2 -rotation jump that announced her coming of age at the 2005 U.S. championships, is back in her repertoire. Meissner and the jump parted company as her focus switched to learning the new scoring system used at this year's nationals, the Olympics and the worlds.

Even without the triple axel, though, her technical skill shined. At worlds, she brought the crowd to its feet by landing seven triple jumps, including two triple-triples.

"She has progressed so quickly technically that a lot of the artistic side of skating she simply didn't have much time to work on as much," Nichol said.

So this year, the coaches will concentrate on softening Meissner's arm motions, getting her to put more passion into her performance and honing her interpretation of the music.

"I think we're just seeing the beginning of what Kimmie Meissner can do," Nichol said. "She just has to stay true to what her vision for herself is and be willing to listen to outside voices."

In the offseason, Meissner has had to catch up on classroom work at Fallston High, perform 10 shows for Champions on Ice, throw out the first pitch at Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies games and attend fund-raisers for charities and nonprofit groups. On July 4, she'll ride in both the Towson and Bel Air parades.

Somehow, she found time to get her learner's permit and practice driving with her father. Her least-favorite driving maneuver?

"I don't like to go backwards," she said with a giggle.

As a competitor, it's a direction the world champion will try to avoid in her second season.

"To try to retain a title is tough," Gregory said. "She's never tried to hang on before. This year, we'll see what she's made of."


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