Meissner, 16, takes maturity for spin

Aiming at Olympics, the Bel Air teenager looks to make figures count in her first Grand Prix skate

Figure Skating


Since her surprising bronze-medal finish in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships this year, Kimmie Meissner has focused her energies on getting to the Winter Olympics.

Her favorite word now is "mature," which the 16-year-old from Bel Air uses to describe her new routines, her costumes and her approach to training.

Tomorrow night, she'll show off her grown-up side in the short program of the first Grand Prix event of her career, the Trophee Eric Bompard, in Paris. On Saturday night, she will unveil a long program containing a triple axel, the jump that announced her coming of age in January.

"I'm definitely ready for my Grand Prixes to start. I've been waiting and waiting," said Meissner, who became the first U.S. woman to land the triple axel in 14 years. "I feel I've grown a lot in my skating, about how to move my body and how to present more and be more mature."

With nine-time U.S. champion Michelle Kwan ailing and two-time world silver medalist Sasha Cohen coming off an injury, the door is open to the next generation of skaters, such as Meissner and Alissa Czisny, 18, who finished first and second in her first two Grand Prix events of the season.

Three women will make the Olympic team.

"I'm going to try my best to step through that door," said Meissner, who will perform in her second Grand Prix event, the NHK Trophy, in Japan on Dec. 1-3.

She will not attempt that step unnoticed, however.

In January, Sports Illustrated gave her better play than Kwan with the headline, "Flash of the Future," and gushed that Meissner's performance in the U.S. championships was that of a "young, gutty star."

Time magazine last month called her "a must-watch at the Winter Olympics," as if the matter of her appearance had been settled.

She finished second to Cohen in the Campbell's Classic on Oct. 8, and was one of two female figure skaters showcased by the U.S. Olympic Committee during a meet-the-press function.

Oh, yes. In her spare time this fall, she led Minnesota Twins fans in a seventh-inning-stretch rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

"Trust me, I don't sing," she said. "I was so nervous; more nervous than when I skate. I always wanted to sing in front of people. Technically, I really shouldn't, but they had the words up and everyone was singing and clapping, so it was OK."

Meissner began skating at 6 and went to her first regional competition five years ago. Two years ago, she won the novice division in the U.S. championships and added a gold medal in the junior division last year. She earned the silver medal in her first junior world championships last year. This year, at the end of a long season, Meissner stumbled in the junior world championships and finished fourth.

Now, she must focus on the Grand Prix circuit and the U.S. championships, Jan. 7-15 in St. Louis, where the Olympic team will be chosen.

Ron Ludington, who runs the ice skating program at the University of Delaware, where Meissner skates, said she has a presence not seen in many skaters her age.

"Kimmie stands out right away," said Ludington, a 1960 Olympic bronze medalist in pairs skating. "She has the talent, the ability and the maturity to put it all together. It's all in her hands."

And those hands have been full, juggling classes at Fallston High School while learning new short and free skate programs.

"They're a lot more mature," said Meissner of her on-ice routines. "The spins and footwork are more difficult, more intricate."

The Grand Prix events are all being judged on the new scoring system that emphasizes difficult jumps and spins.

"It's hard, because the rules keep changing. They're still refining them," Meissner said. "They seem like little things, but sometimes little things are big. I can only imagine what it's like for skaters who have competed under the old 6.0 [scoring] their whole lives. But it hasn't been easy for me, either."

Her short program will be skated to Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances. She has selected a simple blue dress, with little vines and flowers.

"It sparkles. It's elegant," she said.

And mature?

"Definitely,'" she said, stifling a giggle.

Her free skate will be performed to Respighi's Queen of Sheba. The dress is "red with a lot of beads. It's mature," she said, embracing that word again.

The triple axel is scheduled to be the second jump in the routine. But the jump has proven to be a fickle friend, there one day and not the next.

In the U.S. championships, Meissner didn't decide to try it until the six-minute warm-up before her long program, when she had a textbook landing.

"It will be really good for three days and then it will go weird. I say I only know that day [of competition] if it's going to be good," she said. "That sums up skating."

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