World champion gets her way

A Bel Air street is named after Kimmie Meissner as she celebrates her recent gold medal

April 02, 2006|By JOHN-JOHN WILLIAMS IV | JOHN-JOHN WILLIAMS IV,SUN REPORTER

Unlike her recent gold medal at the World Figure Skating Championships in Canada, Kimmie Meissner can't wear her latest accolade - a street named after her in downtown Bel Air.

Several hundred people gathered yesterday morning to watch the 16-year-old Bel Air native pull a long green cord to drop a tarp and unveil a sign proclaiming Main Street at Pennsylvania Avenue as Kimmie Way.

"I'm looking up there and it's so funny," Meissner said afterward as she sat in the back seat of an SUV while waiting for her parents to finish talking to supporters. "All I can say is this is awesome."

Arriving almost two hours before the unveiling at 10 a.m., Jan Greenwood of Bel Air was one of the first people to stake out a prime location in front of Buontempo Brothers Italian Restaurant - a pizzeria frequented by the Meissner family.

"I've been a big fan for a couple of years now," said Greenwood, who plans to attend the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, so she can support Meissner. "It's phenomenal to have our county represented in such a wonderful way."

Greenwood added: "She has that quiet determination and the desire emanates from her."

Bel Air officials got the idea for the street from Michael Phelps Way - named for the multiple Olympic gold medal swimmer - in Towson.

"They have Phelps Way in Towson, can't we have Kimmie Way?" said Bel Air Commissioner James McMahan.

"This street will remind us that the American dream is still alive and well," said Bel Air Mayor Terence O. Hanley.

"Kimmie is the epitome of hometown pride," McMahan said. "She's so modest, so humble and so talented."

Richard Lynch, owner of Buontempo Brothers, gave Meissner a bouquet of roses, irises and alstromeria. His restaurant has been a hotspot for viewing Meissner's competitions on television over the past two months.

"Who better to stand behind than a good kid?" Lynch said as he rolled dough for a pizza in his restaurant's kitchen. "I couldn't be more proud if she was mine."

Mary Stitz of Bel Air found out about the street-naming ceremony yesterday morning and immediately rushed downtown to catch a glimpse of Meissner.

"It's an honor to live in the same town," Stitz said, as she held a small American flag. "She has superb technical ability. She's a tremendous skater."

Meissner landed seven triple jumps during the free skate, propelling her to a gold medal at her first world championships March 25. The victory followed a sixth-place finish at the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

"It wasn't a surprise," Stitz said of the gold medal performance. "After her experience at the Olympics, I thought she would simmer down and perform as well as she did."

Yesterday's street-naming ceremony did not go as flawlessly as Meissner's winning performance.

Minutes before she arrived, the tarp covering the street sign fell to the ground and was quickly repositioned.

And when Meissner finally pulled the cord to unveil the sign, the tarp fell on top of her. She simply grinned and walked up to podium and greeted her fans.

"I never thought there would be a street [named] after me," said Meissner, who wore a self-described "woolly" jacket, cuffed blue jeans with flowers running up the sides, and silver flip-flops. "I'm proud to be from Bel Air."

Her father, Paul Meissner, said the street is the perfect end to a great competitive season.

"It's the culmination of so many years of practice and hard work," he said. "I've known it all along. What you saw in Calgary has been how she has been skating in practice for months. I'm so proud of her."

Paul Meissner said his daughter will spend the next several months skating with the Champions on Ice professional tour and working on new competitive routines for the fall.

"I still make her clean her room every couple of weeks," said Paul Meissner, revealing the key to keeping his daughter grounded. "Now, that will be harder. She will say, `I have a street named after me.'"

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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