Just say Meissner has arrived

Kimmie Meissner got gold-medal questions yesterday at a downtown news conference.

Speed skater Chad Hedrick, who won the 5,000-meter race last Saturday, asks about her availability to skate doubles with him. Fellow long-track skater Derek Parra, who won the 1,500-meter race in 2002, asks about the difference in consistency between the ice he competes on and the ice she calls home.

Talk about running with the big dogs.

Meissner arrived in Turin yesterday after spending a week training in the mountain town of Courmayer. Today, she'll practice on the ice where she'll compete tomorrow and Thursday night.

"I'm feeling pretty confident and ready to go," she said.

The skater from Bel Air will perform second in a field of 29 skaters in tomorrow night's short program, a position she says she prefers.

"You can warm up and get off the ice, take a little break, get back on and do your competition," she said. "It's actually nice to get it done early. But I've skated so many times in all different places that I don't really care anymore."

Irina Slutskaya, the gold-medal favorite from Russia, will skate 18th, American Emily Hughes will skate 15th and U.S. champion Sasha Cohen will skate last.

Evgeni Plushenko, the men's gold medalist, drew the same starting position.

"I heard that," said Meissner, 16. "Maybe it could rub off."

Slutskaya, the world champion, arrived in Turin from Moscow on Saturday, and practiced on the Olympic ice for the first time yesterday afternoon. Her jumps looked strong, including a solid triple-triple-double jump combination. She did segments of her long program and performed one triple toe loop.

"I'm feeling good," she said afterward. "I'm very happy to be here."

So is Meissner, especially since her father and three brothers arrived yesterday to join her mother. Although the skater has spent some time in the Olympic Village, the youngest U.S. Olympian said she'll probably spend the bulk of her time in an apartment with her family.

"I like it in the village. But it's kind of nice to stay calm," she said.

Meissner met Hedrick and Parra at the opening ceremony and chatted with them before the athletes' parade.

"They were pretty cool," she said.

Parra, 35, said he was impressed by Meissner's poise and contrasted it with his experience.

"I didn't start roller skating until I was 14, so at 16 I was still pretty young and not very good," Parra said. "I think some of the girls coming up now have great families, great support systems and they're a little more adult than athletes you've seen in the past. Seeing Kimmie up here this comfortable is a good thing, and she'll be comfortable in the [Olympic] spotlight. I think she's going to handle herself well."

As for Hedrick's question about a skating partnership, Meissner playfully deflected it.

"I'd have to rethink things," she said. "First, do I want to do pairs, and second, do I want to do them with him? It's a lot to think about."

A few weeks after the Olympics, Meissner will head to Calgary for the world championships. But that's not even on her radar.

"I haven't thought about the competition being over yet," she said. "I'm still thinking about it starting. It is one of the things that got me here, just thinking about what's on my plate right now."


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