Meissner keeps a sharp edge

From the time Kimmie Meiss- ner skated her short program Tuesday night to the time she found out she finished in fifth place, "it felt like I competed days ago," she said.

Today, along with 23 other skaters, she'll do her four-minute long program. But instead of going near the front of the pack, Meissner will be in the elite group of six who, by virtue of their high scores, will skate last.

"It felt really neat to be out there. To be in the last warm-up group at the Olympics was definitely a neat feeling, and I feel that I belong there, so that's cool," she said after an afternoon practice.

The 16-year-old from Bel Air will skate next to last, just before reigning world champion Irina Slutskaya, and two skaters after U.S. champion and competition leader Sasha Cohen.

In addition to the afternoon session, Meissner also went over her jumps, spirals and spins in a morning practice, and acknowledged that she would have gone out on the ice a third time if the slot had been available.

"I am definitely anxious to get back out there. I feel really strong and ready and I can't wait," she said at an informal news conference.

Meissner is 7.33 points behind Cohen, who is only .03 of a point ahead of Russia's Slutskaya and .71 of a point in front of Shizuka Arakawa of Japan. The top five are rounded out by Fumie Suguri of Japan in fourth place.

The long program is worth two-thirds of the final score.

In her short program, Meissner surprised the field with a clean presentation that earned among the highest technical marks of the evening. Her weakness proved to be her component score for artistic merit, which was ranked only 11th best.

Meissner acknowledged how hard it was to wait for 27 other competitors to finish their programs.

"I was hoping my scores would keep me up in the last group," said the runner-up at the U.S. championships. "I wanted to make it into this group, so I'm pretty happy."

Cohen set off a minor media meltdown when she skipped yesterday's practice after complaining to her coach, John Nicks, that she didn't sleep well and was fatigued.

Reporters scurried around the skating compound for clues as to whether Cohen was injured, leaving Nicks to explain her absence. "She has trained very hard," Nicks said. "Stamina is not a problem, and she knows the program backward. We just thought it would be a better strategy to rest a day."

After training in a small mountain resort about two hours outside Turin last week, Cohen moved back to the city earlier this week. She also skipped the informal practice just before skating the short program.

Nicks turned aside questions about a possible groin injury.

"She has occasional muscle problems and uses a lot of ice, as a lot of athletes do. There's nothing to worry about and I don't think she looked injured at all. ... She has a few aches and pains, as we all do as we get older," said the 76-year-old coach of his 21-year-old skater.

Meissner's plan for last night was to turn in early after going out for dinner with her parents, three brothers, grandmother and cousin.

One final run-through is planned today before the competition.

Meissner's scheduled program opens with two triple-triple jump combinations. The middle section contains three single triple jumps. In the final segment, Meissner will attempt a combination with three two-rotation jumps. By saving the double-double-double for the second half of her program, Meissner hopes to pile on the points.

Pam Gregory, her coach, said the skater prefers the long program over the short because of the opportunity to perform more jumps.

"She's had two great practices, and she's done five in a row of everything in the program," Gregory said.

A strong skate by Meissner coupled with a stumble by Arakawa or Suguri could put Meissner on the podium.

"I think anything is possible and I think I have a good shot. I think everybody in the last group does," Meissner said. "I'm trying to think about my skating and not about the result, but it would be nice."


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