Lots of miles add up to impressive figures

Figure skating: Daily trips to Delaware for Bel Air's Kimberly Meissner, 14, are pointing her toward what she hopes is a bright future on the ice.

Figure Skating

January 17, 2004|By Donovan Burba | Donovan Burba,SUN STAFF

The road from Baltimore to Newark, Del., isn't the most scenic in the world, but for one figure skater who makes the trek five days a week, it has ended up taking her to Slovenia, Bulgaria and Sweden, and may someday lead to the Olympics.

Bel Air's Kimberly Meissner, 14, won the junior women's title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Atlanta last Saturday, a victory made possible through her training at the University of Delaware Figure Skating Club.

The win, coming one year after she captured the novice title, leaves the Fallston High School freshman poised to make the next step, to the senior level populated by such household names as Michelle Kwan, Sarah Hughes and Sasha Cohen.

Given that Hughes won Olympic gold at 16 and Kwan captured eight national titles before turning 24, Meissner's chances for greater glory appear good despite her age.

"There's no reason to hold her back," said Pamela Gregory, Meissner's coach and choreographer. "She's handled where she's at beautifully."

Meissner's free-skate routine in Atlanta, set to Ottorino Respighi's Pines of Rome, contained seven triple-jumps, six of which she landed well. The one miss wasn't enough to keep her from the gold, as she earned marks ranging from 5.3 to 5.5 out of 6.0. The performance left few doubts in her mind that she is ready to take on the world's best.

"I feel pretty ready to go up there," Meissner said matter-of-factly. "I think that [Atlanta win] gives me a lot of confidence to move up to seniors."

She is optimistic about passing the on-ice test required of senior skaters because its double-jumps are technically easier than the triples in her routine.

Every day, Meissner's mother, Judy, picks her up from school at 11 a.m. for the nearly hour-long drive to Newark, where four days a week she practices with Gregory. Fridays, she works out on her own, with help from World Figure Skating Hall of Fame inductee Ron Ludington.

Meissner, who stands just a shade under 5 feet, also works with the club's strength coach, Jeff Snyder, lifting weights and cross-training.

Because there is no shortage of incidents of young athletes losing their childhoods to a slavish devotion to sports, Meissner and her mother stress the importance of living a normal life.

"That's always been a concern. I always make sure she's happy and she's enjoying what she's doing," said Judy Meissner.

"We've tried to instill that there's a life besides skating," she said. "We [her husband is Dr. Paul Meissner] made it clear she needs to pursue her education and her other interests."

Gregory praised her pupil's ability to maintain an even keel through bad days, a rarity among adolescents, as well as her physical strength.

However, Gregory said, Meissner's showmanship could use some improvement. Figure skating is, after all, a delicate combination of athleticism and aestheticism, and pleasing judges - and the crowd - goes beyond simply landing jumps.

"Really expressing yourself on the ice and drawing the crowd in, that's hard for a young teen to do," Gregory said. "That comes with success, with feeling like the crowd is really enjoying watching you."

Kwan, for example, drew a standing ovation from the Atlanta crowd even before her routine had ended, and received seven perfect 6.0 scores for artistry in winning her seventh straight national senior title.

Kwan, who competed in her first U.S. senior championship in 1993, is the biggest name in figure skating, and Meissner relishes the idea of skating on the same ice as one of her idols.

"I always hoped to have the chance to compete against Michelle," Meissner said. "That would be really awesome to be able to skate against her."

"It would help if Michelle had retired by now," Gregory said.

Gregory said the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, aren't out of the question, but Meissner and her family are cautious. The skater said it's "nice to think about the Olympics," but is wary of getting ahead of herself, and Judy Meissner knows just how much can change in a few years.

"I don't know how much time she'll want to commit to it when she's 16 or 18 and she has a boyfriend," her mother said.

Meissner has already confronted two tough international opponents: jet lag and food. At her first international competition, the Triglav Trophy in March 2003, she struggled with the time difference and meaty Slovenian fare, finishing third as a novice.

Since then, she's taken steps to prepare for competitions abroad, adjusting her sleep schedule before she gets on the plane.

As for the food, well, some things are tough to prepare for.

"In Sweden, there was reindeer on the menu," said Meissner, laughing. "I didn't eat it. I was so sad. It was near Christmas and I was like, 'It's Rudolph!' "

Meissner file

Name: Kimberly Meissner (pronounced Mize-ner)

Nickname: Kimmie

Born: Oct. 4, 1989

Coach: Pamela Gregory

Affiliation: University of Delaware Figure Skating Club

Record: Junior division: 2004 U.S. championships, 1st; 2003 Grand Prix (Bulgaria), 2nd; 2003 Grand Prix (Slovenia), 1st; novice division: 2003 U.S. championships, 1st; 2003 South Atlantic regional, 2nd; 2003 Eastern sectional, 1st; 2003 Triglav Trophy(Slovenia), 3rd.

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