Can Meissner regain her edge?
The former world champ will take a new coach and re-worked jumps to Gothenburg
|Kimmie Meissner. (Michelle Harvath)|
By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(03/07/2008) - At age 16, Kimberly Meissner had the skating world at its feet. She was credited with landing a triple Axel at the 2005 U.S. Championships, the first U.S. lady to do so since Tonya Harding. After an impressive sixth-place finish at the 2006 Olympics, the unheralded Maryland teen stunned favorites Sasha Cohen and Fumie Suguri with a convincing win at the '06 Calgary worlds. Multiple U.S. titles seemed within her grasp. Fast forward two years, and some are saying the 18-year-old athlete is over-the-hill. More often than not, her triple-triple combinations are marked as under rotated, and her triple flip receives the dreaded "e" deduction. "I'm really just working on trying to get my confidence level back up and feeling consistent with my jumps and my programs," Meissner said. "I'm trying to get into a good state of mind so I can go out there and perform the way that I would like to. I know I can do better." After a seventh-place finish at the 2008 U.S. Championships in Saint Paul, Meissner listened to her critics and relocated from University of Delaware and long-time mentor Pam Gregory to Florida to train under Richard Callaghan, the veteran coach known for his ability to refine jumps. "I obviously knew I wasn't skating at the level I know I can and I just felt like I really needed to change," she explained. "Mr. Callaghan had offered to help me and I just felt like this is what I needed to do now, in order to do my best. It was a hard decision but I know I made the right one." With the 2008 World Championships just six weeks away, there was little time to waste. Meissner moved to Florida just two weeks after Saint Paul, and she and Callaghan quickly took stock of the situation. "We've worked on everything, just everything," she said. "Basically, once you have your jumps you kind of have them and it's just tweaking them a little bit. I feel very confident that I'm a lot better and I feel a lot better. We just have to wait and see and hopefully everyone else can see what I feel." Meissner's past achievements earned her the opportunity to redeem herself at worlds. With three of the top four finishers at the 2008 U.S. Championships too young to qualify, U.S. Figure Skating's international committee awarded her one of the three available spots. Callaghan, who guided the career of six-time U.S. champion Todd Eldredge and coached Tara Lipinski to the 1998 Olympic title, said he was delighted with his new pupil's discipline. "We've tweaked some jumps," Callaghan said. "We've definitely worked on the second triple [in Meissner's triple-triple combinations] to get it higher, which can produce a cleaner jump. We've worked a little on the timing of one of the other jumps, the flip, to help correct [the outside edge take-off]. "She accepts whatever information I give her and she works on it, so I feel really positive about the event coming up." Technical specialists have been Meissner's undoing. The former world champion has repeatedly had the triple toe loop in her triple Lutz-triple toe combo downgraded to a double, and her triple flip has been cited for an incorrect outside-edge take-off. She is hardly alone. World champion Brian Joubert, among many others, has received edge deductions for his triple flip. At the recent Four Continents Championship the entire ladies' podium of Mao Asada, Joannie Rochette and Miki Ando had triple-triple combinations downgraded. "I don't feel going in to jumps that I'm more apprehensive," Meissner claimed. "Sometimes, if I feel it is a great jump and it has the edge change [deduction], it's difficult to understand why. It's frustrating; that's the way you do the jump. And I think also it might depend upon the angle [the technical panel] is looking at." According to Meissner, her confidence problems are nothing new. They crept in not long after her surprise victory in Calgary. "You start to kind of doubt yourself a little bit because you think you have to be perfect every time," she said. "I was trying as much as I could, but there were just a lot of things going on that really needed to be addressed. I just finally stepped up and made the decision. This season has been difficult, for sure, but I feel like I'm in a better place now." The skater seems to have set attainable goals for Gothenburg. One, of course, is to skate well; the other, to help qualify three U.S. ladies for the 2009 World Championships, to be held in Los Angeles. To do so, the top two U.S. ladies finishers must perform well enough so their placements do not add up to more than 13. With powerhouse skaters like Asada, Ando, Yu-Na Kim (questionable with back and hip injuries), Yukari Nakano, and Carolina Kostner expected to compete, that could be a tall order for Meissner and teammates Ashley Wagner and Bebe Liang, both competing at worlds for the first time. "Personally for me I don't feel any pressure. I feel like I've taken the pressure off myself," Meissner said with an ironic giggle. "We have a very strong team going in there, and we all know that we have to be towards the top in order to secure the three positions, and I think that it is definitely something that can be done."