Handily, Meissner grabs the lead

Kimmie Meissner's score of 65.69 in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships' short program was a personal best.
Kimmie Meissner's score of 65.69 in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships' short program was a personal best. (AP photo)
It's hard to follow a standing ovation, but last night Kimmie Meissner did just that and grabbed the lead at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Emily Hughes had just completed a nearly flawless short program that brought the audience of 8,010 to its feet, when Meissner skated onto the ice to warm up and ran into a swarm of small skaters scooping flowers and stuffed animals flung by fans.

The Bel Air teen says she knew Hughes had done well, and that only made her more determined.

"There was a lot of pressure for me coming into this. I was really feeling it [Wednesday]. Today, I was just trying to relax and not think about it as much," Meissner said. "Having Emily skate well was good for me because it motivates me to do my best."

Meissner scored a 65.69, a personal best, to take the lead into tomorrow's long program. Her technical score was 37.55, and her program component score was 28.14.

Hughes also set a personal best score of 62.32, but it was not enough to hold on to second place. Beatrisa "BeBe" Liang hit a triple lutz-double toe combination - a slightly more technical combination than Hughes' triple flip-double toe combination - to earn a score of 62.66.

Performing to Georgy Sviridov's Snowstorm, Meissner opened with a triple lutz-triple toe combination, followed by a triple flip.

She has made no secret of her dislike of the short program, saying she always feels rushed to get in all the required elements. And certainly last night she had moments where a little deliberation might have helped her artistic score.

But when asked if she could have had more flow between her second and third jumps, Meissner had a quick comeback.

"I think more flow is always good, but I was on my feet so that's a lot of flow for me, right now," she said, giggling.

Meissner is attempting to become the first American woman since Kristi Yamaguchi in 1992 to win a national title after winning the world championship. The last time a junior national champion went on to win a senior title was Jill Trenary in 1990.

Tomorrow afternoon, Meissner will skate to Galicia Flamenco, a nod to her maternal great-grandfather's Spanish roots. She'll attempt seven triple jumps, including a pair of triple-triples.

The men's competition is a dead heat, with two-time world bronze medalist Evan Lysacek holding less than a point lead over three-time national champion Johnny Weir after the short program.

Lysacek skated first and with a sense of urgency to The Last Temptation of Christ, landing five triple jumps and executing crisp spins and footwork to earn a score of 78.99.

This was a skater with something to prove. He clenched his fists when he landed a triple flip, and let out a scream and raised his arms overhead during a victory lap afterward, as much in relief as joy. The 2005 bronze medalist and 2006 silver medalist at nationals said afterward that his reputation as a poor short-program performer had gotten in his head.

"This is the first time I've been able to make this statement. It's a weight off my shoulders," he said of his emotional on-ice display. Lysacek has never finished higher than Weir at nationals in five attempts.

Five skaters later, Weir hit the ice in an understated black-and-white jumpsuit adorned with the outline of chess pieces, a knight on the front, a rook on the back.

Skating to Palladio, a tune better known as the theme of the De Beers diamond commercials, Weir looked tentative in his footwork, spins and step sequences. The skater called it "a mishmash," and attributed his showing to nerves and lingering pain from a "hip-butt" injury that forced him to withdraw from the Grand Prix Final last month.

"It may not have been perfect at every level but it was the best I could do today and I'm thrilled with that," he said of his score of 78.14. "I heard the reaction to Evan and I heard his scores so I knew I'd have to skate well to beat it. I would have needed the highest I'd had all season and I got close."

Shaun Rogers of Millersville touched the ice with his hand on his triple flip but still finished fifth out of 18 competitors - one spot ahead of last year - with a score of 67.34.


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