Meissner takes step up in class in Classic today

Rising star: Not yet 15, the Fallston High sophomore will test her jumps and spins against an elite field in Minnesota.

Figure Skating

October 01, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

At 14, Kimmie Meissner already has beaten most of her peers in the figure skating world.

But today, with the Winter Olympics 16 months away, she'll find out if it's soup yet as she faces the sport's elite in the Campbell's International Figure Skating Classic.

The Fallston High School sophomore, who won the novice national title in 2003 and the junior title this year, is one of eight skaters in a field that includes the top three finishers in this year's world championships.

Shizuka Arakawa of Japan and Sasha Cohen and Michelle Kwan of the United States - gold, silver and bronze, respectively - have plenty of global experience under their blades.

"I'm just going to take a deep breath, go out and skate my best," said Meissner, who turns 15 on Monday. "I think I'm up for the challenge."

Is the event at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., Meissner's coming-out party for the senior circuit next year and then the Turin Olympics in 2006?

Her coach, Pam Gregory, said that's a strong possibility, but Meissner calls it a little premature.

"Right now, I'm just thinking about Campbell's and then the [Junior] Grand Prix final in December," she said. "More likely, it will be 2010."

But Meissner wouldn't be the first American whiz kid on ice. Tara Lipinski won Olympic gold in 1998 at the age of 15. Sarah Hughes was 16 when she topped the podium in 2002, and Kwan won her first of eight national titles at 15.

"It doesn't bother me when people call me `the next,'" said Meissner. "It's flattering, but at the same time I don't want to be too much like them. I don't say I'm going to be like Tara Lipinski. I want to be the next Kimmie Meissner."

Still, it's interesting to look at Lipinski's rise: second place in the 1994 national novice competition, second in the 1995 national junior event and first place in the 1997 national and world championships.

But minimum-age rules have become tighter since Lipinski's days. Skaters must be 15 to compete in the worlds, which makes tomorrow's international competition against senior skaters an even more important seasoning tool.

Meissner won the silver medal at the 2004 junior world championships and finished second this season in Junior Grand Prix competitions in France and California. This event is just another learning experience, she said.

"I've skated with Michelle [Kwan] in shows, and I'm used to that," Meissner said. "I just have to look at it that way."

A late entry, Meissner was chosen just over a week ago after Italy's Carolina Kostner, fifth-place finisher in the worlds, withdrew.

"She had two events under her belt with two silver medals. She was selected on merit," said Bob Dunlop, a senior official at U.S. Figure Skating.

"I've been thrown into things before," Meissner said, laughing. "I was sort of happy to have short notice. It's less time to think about it and worry."

The 2003 men's Classic winner, Evgeny Plushenko of Russia, will not defend his title. The men's field of six skaters includes Johnny Weir, the 2004 U.S. champion; Timothy Goebel, the 2002 Olympic bronze medalist; and this year's world championships silver medalist, Brian Joubert of France.

Meissner said she was making up schoolwork she missed while in California when the phone rang.

"My mom got the call and told me. I couldn't talk. I just stood there in silence," she recalled. "I was pretty surprised. She said, `You're going to compete against Michelle.' Words couldn't describe how I felt."

The young athlete first saw Kwan skate at the national championships in Philadelphia in 1998, where she earned 15 perfect scores in her two programs while performing on a barely healed toe stress fracture.

"I thought she was pretty awesome then, and she still is," said Meissner. "I never dreamed I'd skate against her."

The Classic will be aired by ABC on Oct. 10 at 1 p.m.

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