Spinning gold again

Kimmie Meissner proved yesterday why she's the reigning world and national champion, coming from sixth place to win the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships.

Skating with determination and focus after a disastrous short program Thursday, she hit five triple jumps, including an opening triple-triple combination. The judges awarded her a score of 120.26 for a two-day total of 172.75.

"This is like a normal day for me. The other day was just, I don't know what happened. ... [Today] I just kind of put myself back in Delaware," she said, referring to her training rink at the University of Delaware.

Emily Hughes, runner-up to Meissner at the national championships last month, finished second with a score of 166.60. Canadian champion Joannie Rochette (165.90) took third.

With her victory, the Bel Air teen joined U.S. men's champion Evan Lysacek as Four Continents winner. Lysacek was in fourth place after his short program but roared back to take the title with a sparkling performance that included a quad toe loop.

"I was just trying to make him feel better that he wasn't the first after the short," she joked. "I felt like I had to do it, too."

Alissa Czisny again showed why it takes more than graceful spins and spirals to win a gold medal. The Ohio skater started the day in fourth, but slipped a spot when she fell twice and earned a score of 154.03 after a three-point deduction.

Hughes performed six triple jumps, none in combination. Her only combination came when she improvised at the halfway point to compensate for missing earlier elements, pairing a planned triple toe loop with a double toe loop. Her long-program score of 111.26 was a personal best.

Meissner had spent the week fending off questions about recent inconsistency: her third-place long program at nationals followed by her poor showing here in the short program.

Yesterday, she skated next to last in the field of 23, reduced by one because of the injury withdrawal of Japan's Fumie Suguri.

Wearing a royal blue and black dress, Meissner skated to "Galacie Flamenco," a nod to her maternal great-grandparents' Spanish roots.

She admits she was still fuming over falling on a triple lutz in her short program.

"I was pretty disappointed with myself after the short just because I do train so much every day," she said. "I know I have that jump. I can do it in my sleep. It really makes me mad when I miss something that, to me, is really easy."

Standing near center ice waiting for her music to begin, Meissner said she reminded herself that only four points separated her from the top. She gathered strength from the audience as her four-minute program progressed.

"I knew I had a lot in my program and I practice it every day," she said. "I really wanted to start. My legs were a little shaky and as it [went] on, more and more of the audience was cheering and I got even more excited."

The only flaw came on the third element of her program. Meissner was a little wobbly on the turn going into the triple flip-triple toe loop combination and could not execute either end of the jump. But unlike Hughes, she refused to improvise and add a jump later in her routine.

"That kind of stuff messes me up. I'm set in my program because I do it every day and it's set in my mind," Meissner said.

As she finished with a flourish near center ice, facing the panel of judges, Meissner pumped her fists, said a small, "yes," and heaved a huge sigh of relief. When she reached the kiss-and-cry area to await her score, Meissner gave her coach, Pam Gregory, a huge hug.

"I thought she did a great job," Gregory said. "She was more settled backstage. She was more focused on the ice all day."

Looking back over the highs and lows of the past two weeks, Meissner has come to one conclusion: "I'd rather be first."