Meissner in position for podium

When Kimmie Meissner returned home from the Olympics a month ago, her right eardrum had ruptured. It bled, and she could barely hear out of it.

"[My coach] always said I had selective hearing," Meissner said.

It's easy to joke now. Her ear is fine and the 16-year-old Bel Air figure skater has turned her attention to making noise, not listening to it. Meissner's name is buzzing through a lot of ears right now at the World Figure Skating Championships.

She enters today's free-skate program with a shot at a medal, even closer to the podium than she was at the Winter Games last month.

In Italy, Meissner stood in fifth place after the first day of competition. She enters today's free skate in third, after a strong short program yesterday.

Meissner, competing in her first world championships, finished yesterday's short program in third place in the 30-skater field with a total score of 88.63. Fellow American Sasha Cohen leads the field with a score of 94.21.

Japan's Fumie Suguri is nearly two points ahead of Meissner at 90.59 and Yukari Nakano, also of Japan, is fourth, at 87.41.

"It feels good to be in this position," Meissner said.

At the Olympics, Meissner used her strong performance on the first day to make up for a couple of mistakes on Day 2. (She fell one position to sixth place after the long program.) But if she can replicate the footwork and spins she performed yesterday, she should be in good position to maintain her spot near the top of the field.

Meissner is regarded as a jumper and her scores typically reflect that, but yesterday she downgraded her opening jump - a triple lutz-triple toe loop combination - to a triple-double, and the judges scored her spins and footwork higher than usual.

"Even though I didn't do my triple-triple, I was glad that my spins all got the right levels and that my footwork was level 3," she said. "It took me all year to get my levels up there, so I was glad that I could finish on a high note. I'm looking forward to [today]."

To maintain her podium hopes today, she'll need to skate a better long program than she managed in Italy. Meissner's best usually comes on Day 2, when her myriad jumps can compensate for artistic deficiencies. She's skating the same long program she performed in Italy, which means a lot of flying through the air today.

Her program will open with two triple-triple jump combinations. Toward the middle, Meissner will try three single triples. And at the end, the young skater will try a double-double-double combination.

She's skating again to "Belkis, Queen of Sheba."

By virtue of the longer program, there are more points on the table today. Meissner's chances are boosted by the absence of a few skaters. The field at this year's world championships is missing a trio of prominent skaters - Michelle Kwan and two of the Olympic medalists, Japan's gold-medal winner Shizuka Arakawa and Russia's Irina Slutskaya, the bronze medalist.

Cohen is the only medalist competing, and she entered the week as a favorite. Though she struggled at Wednesday's qualifying, her performance yesterday vaulted her name to the top of the leader board.

Her short program wasn't as strong as her vibrant performance in Turin, but it was enough to give Cohen a nearly four-point cushion in the standings. Even before she stumbled from first to second at the Olympics, Cohen has had a history of building a big lead and faltering on Day 2.

"I think Wednesday shook me up a little bit," she said of this week's qualifying, "and I just took it a little too easy. It reminded me to believe and conquer and to stay in the present."

Because they finished in the top six, Cohen and Meissner will skate in the final group this afternoon. Cohen will skate first in the group, followed immediately by Meissner.

Then the two Americans will watch the four remaining skaters, waiting to see if their scores hold up and if there's a place on the podium for either.

  • Note // Bulgaria's Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski won their nation's first world gold by taking the ice dancing championship last night. Americans Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto added bronze to their Olympic silver medal, finishing behind Canadians Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, who won the free dance.

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