Spinning to stop in Colorado fits Meissner's routine

Sun Reporter

It stands to reason that Kimmie Meissner's unconventional rise to the top of women's figure skating might include some unplanned stops.

After winning the U.S. title two weeks ago, the Bel Air teen said she didn't know if she would perform at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, a competition that has attracted few of the top American women skaters since its start in 1999.

But with the world championships a little more than a month away and a formidable international field awaiting, Meissner, the reigning champion, and the rest of the U.S. champions decided to add the event to their schedules.

In addition to providing a tuneup, the event pays $15,000 to the women's and men's champions and $22,500 to the top pairs and dance couples.

Meissner almost didn't make it here. She missed her scheduled flight Tuesday when a fatal accident shut down I-95 between the University of Delaware rink where she practices and Philadelphia International Airport. She didn't arrive until 3:30 a.m. yesterday and skipped the 8 a.m. practice.

"We were just exhausted," said her mother, Judy Meissner. "But we're here and she'll do what she can."

Tonight, Meissner will skate her short program, the same one that put her in first place at nationals and allowed her to grab the title despite a long program -- her favorite component of the competition -- that was only third best.

In the men's competition last night, Canada's Jeffrey Buttle made up for a stumble on a triple axel as he won the short program. Buttle scored a personal-best 77.72 points despite putting both hands down to steady himself on the second leap of his program.

Jeremy Abbott, a late addition when Johnny Weir decided not to attend, finished second and Ryan Bradley was third. Evan Lysacek, who won the U.S. Championships last month, was fourth after a flat performance.

After the ice dancing compulsories, U.S. champions Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto are in second place, less than a point behind Canada's Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, silver medalists in last year's worlds.

Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski, the surprise gold medalists in pairs at nationals, were no match for the two teams from China last night and sit in seventh place after the short program. Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao, the Olympic bronze medalists, are in first, nearly 3 1/2 points ahead of Chinese world champs Qing Pang and Jian Tong.

Guided by coach Pam Gregory, Meissner has charted her own course to skating's elite level. She earned her world title before winning the national championship, the first woman to do that since Kristi Yamaguchi in 1991.

Meissner took nationals without winning the long program, the first time that had happened since 1991. And she finished in second and third place in her two Grand Prix events, using them to experiment with new elements, which cost her a chance to qualify for the Grand Prix final.

Meissner is facing a field of 25 skaters, including Japan's Fumie Suguri, three-time winner of the Four Continents, and Canadian champion Joannie Rochette.

She also will see how she stacks up against U.S. teammates Emily Hughes, the nationals runner-up who finished seventh at the Olympics, and Alissa Czisny, who bested Meissner and Hughes in the free skate at nationals.

She will perform in the penultimate group with Suguri and Czisny. Hughes and Rochette will skate in the last group.

candy.thomson@baltsun.comThe Associated Press contributed to this article.

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