Fans celebrate Meissner's win, see gain for local skating scene

March 28, 2006|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

If you are not part of the skating world, a Harford County resident or a cable television subscriber, you might not have seen a Maryland teenager claim the World Figure Skating Championship in Canada.

When Kimmie Meissner, 16, of Bel Air took gold in Calgary on Saturday, the event did not play to an Olympics-sized television audience. But the hometown crowd, including former coaches and judges, enthusiastically cheered her accomplishment.

"The Olympics gets so much hype, and its audience is worldwide, but if you are an avid viewer and fan of figure skating, you would follow the World Championships as much as the Olympics," said John Cole, an international ice dancing judge.

Cole had just returned to his Hunt Valley home from Calgary on Saturday when a friend called him from the stands at the arena with the results. The friend was so excited he had not left his seat, Cole said.

"The world championships are incredibly important, no matter what the sport," he said. "If you do nothing else in your life, you can say that for that one time, there was nobody better in the world."

Cole has known Meissner since "she literally was just learning to skate" at Mount Pleasant Ice Rink in Baltimore, he said. He was a spectator in Calgary last week watching the teen that many call Bel Air's ice princess skate during the qualifying round and in her preliminary program.

"She was well-prepared, although coming right off the Olympics makes for the toughest competition," Cole said. "She was brand-new to the world championships. It would have been considered a success if she had finished in the top five."

Among those cheering in front of the TV with Cole and his wife, Holly, were fans from Mount Pleasant, who knew Meissner when she first laced her skates and have followed her through years of competition.

In skating circles, the world championships are the ultimate goal, said Holly Cole, a national ice dancing judge, who, with her husband, is headed to a competition in Dallas today.

"The Olympics are only every four years, but you are world champion for one year," said Holly Cole. "These are big shoes to fill and constant pressure to improve."

The Olympics will always get more press and promotion, but a hometown champion might increase local interest in the sport, said Teresa Cook, president of the Baltimore Figure Skating Club.

"The general public does not pay attention to other skating events, but this one is important," she said. "People everywhere are going to watch when Kimmie takes to the ice now."

Holly Cole said it is "so cool to have a skater from this area, where there is no training center, make it to the top. It is really nice for the Bel Air rink, too. This really shines the light on figure skating."

Meissner began training when she was 7 years old at Mount Pleasant, a city-run rink on Hillen Road, under the tutelage of Rachel Cox.

"I saw the potential from the second she stepped out onto the ice," said Cox, who coached her for four years. "Kimmie is a rare find who loves skating and has a natural way on the ice. I always knew this was coming."

Meissner eventually needed a rink where she could train daily.

She now practices daily at the University of Delaware in Newark.

For those like Cook who have watched Meissner train and compete at local competitions and at the junior nationals for nearly a decade, there was no missing a delayed cable broadcast Saturday.

"She is probably the first Maryland resident to win a world skating championship," said John Cole. "This one skater can generate more interest in the sport and highlight skating in the state. She will make every person in Maryland and the U.S. proud of her."

Cox said the Mount Pleasant crowd will continue to follow Meissner.

"Everyone who knew her before she was a world champion knows she is one motivated skater who will be a great ambassador for the sport," Cox said.

"Now that Kimmie has won the worlds, maybe people will realize this competition is every bit as important as the Olympics. What an honor to be the best in the world."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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