Asada flawless

Meissner slips to 4th

Bel Air skater starts well at junior worlds, falters

Figure Skating


KITCHENER, Ontario - Too young to compete in next year's Winter Olympics, Mao Asada made the Junior World Figure Skating Championships her international stage.

Asada, 14, of Japan was a clean, serene jumping machine last night as she nonchalantly landed one element after another - including a triple axel - to easily win the gold medal with an elegant performance that brought the audience to its feet.

Bel Air's Kimmie Meissner, the defending silver medalist who entered the free skate in third place, self-destructed in the final 90 seconds of her program and dropped to fourth.

"I started real well and ." she said, grabbing her head and looking sheepish. "I'm mad at myself for the end. I'm happy I did at least that one triple lutz."

Emily Hughes, the younger sister of 2002 Olympic gold medalist Sarah Hughes, rose two positions to finish in third place with a joyfully skated program to Sleeping Beauty.

As she entered the final two elements of her program, Hughes" face lighted up and the crowd responded with applause that only grew as she went into her last spin.

Hughes raised her arms over her head and broke into a wide smile, reminiscent of her older sister's pose after her winning performance in Salt Lake City.

"Sarah called me and wished me good luck, and I think that helped." she said.

Meissner's coach, Pam Gregory, was bewildered by her skater's performance.

"She was skating great for two-thirds of the program and then, I don't know, the last two jumps, I don't know what she was thinking. She lost her timing, and ' said Gregory, her voice trailing off. "It's too bad because she had a great program going."

Meissner dropped her planned triple axel and substituted a double axel, double toe combination. She had been hitting the difficult jump in practice early in the week, but lost her form as she got closer to the long program.

Later in the long program, Meissner was supposed to perform a triple flip, double toeloop, double loop sequence - an element with enough value to offset the lose of the triple axel. But she did not connect and finished with a score of 93.96 and a total score of 146.63.

The third U.S. skater, Alissa Czisny, 17, started the evening in second place but fell once and didn't complete two planned jumps to finish eighth in the long program and sixth overall.

Asada was best of show from Monday's qualifying round to the end. Skating last, she opened her long program with a triple axel, the jump that is being done by only a handful of women. From there, she strung together elements, gliding across the ice like a bead of oil on water.

For Asada, the win put an exclamation point on a season that included a gold medal at the junior Grand Prix final in Helsinki in December and her country's own junior national championship title.

Earlier in the day, the U.S. ice dancing team of Morgan Matthews and Maxim Zavozin finished first in the original dance with a score of 98.78. On Tuesday, the pair from Northern Virginia won the compulsory dance. The final element, the free dance, will be skated tonight.

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