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Eldredge helps show Meissner the way

Six-time U.S. champion uses compulsory figures as teaching tool

Todd Eldredge is enjoying helping Kimmie Meissner regain top form.
Todd Eldredge is enjoying helping Kimmie Meissner regain top form. (Lynn Rutherford )

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/24/2008) - When Kimmie Meissner needs extra motivation, Todd Eldredge knows the perfect words.

"I just tell her, 'Hey, if a 37-year-old geezer like me can go out and do it, it's not that hard,'" Eldredge said.

The 1996 world champion is in Everett, assisting Meissner's primary coach, Richard Callaghan, who also guided Eldredge's long competitive career.

"Todd helps me with my confidence, the way I approach competition," the 19-year-old Meissner, who won the world title in 2006 but placed seventh in 2008, said. "He's gone through everything himself."

That's an understatement. Eldredge competed in three Olympics ('92,'98 and '02). Most important, he returned to the top of the sport after others had written him off -- exactly what Meissner seeks to do now.

The Massachusetts native won the first of his U.S. titles back in '90 and repeated in '91, then suffered a back injury that helped put him out of contention. He reasserted himself in '95 and went on to win four more U.S. titles, the last in 2002 when he was 30 years old.

Now, Eldredge is passing on some of that competitive skill.

"I like standing by the boards here," he said. "I don't have to do anything. She goes out and does it all. She's a lot of fun to work with; she absolutely wants to work hard and go out there and do her best."

Eldredge, who has lived in the Detroit area for many years, has his house on the market and is in the process of relocating to southern Florida near Coral Springs, where Meissner trains. He spent much of the summer working with Callaghan, who is rebuilding Meissner's confidence as much as he is re-tooling her technique.

"I worked with them whenever I was in town," Eldredge, who remains in demand as a show skater, said. "I have a few gigs coming up, and then Stars on Ice rehearsals start in Lake Placid in mid-November. This season, we'll mostly be performing on weekends, so I'll have Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays off and can still work with them."

The combined knowledge of Eldredge and Callaghan seems to be having a beneficial effect.

"Last year [at Skate America] I was really nervous, I was afraid to go out there," Meissner said. "Now I've changed a lot of things. My technique on the triple flip is different, we're working on getting the [inside edge] take-off. I can't wait for the competition to start."

Meissner, like many other top skaters, was hurt by a new rule last season that required judges to deduct for incorrect edge take-offs on the flip and Lutz jumps. To help correct the problem, Eldredge reached into the past and incorporated compulsory figures into Meissner's daily training.

Until 1990, when the International Skating Union eliminated them from competition, singles' skaters spent up to three hours a day working on "patch" sessions to steady and perfect their tracings.

"A lot of the basic skills training they have today [in lieu of figures] isn't quite the same," Eldredge said. "Back in the day, if you asked most skaters if they could do a back change loop, they could. Now, most can't, and they lack some ability even though they are fantastic skaters.

"I'm using the figures to help Kimmie bend her knees, improve edge quality and get down in the ice, to help her develop more confidence and power in her skating. Of course none of these changes happens overnight, but she's been great with it."

Meissner, who has toured with Eldredge on Stars on Ice, enjoys a convivial little-sister type relationship with the older skater.

"We've been friends for a long time," she said. "He's really laid back on the ice. We spend a lot of time laughing."

"Yeah, I push her buttons out there," Eldredge replied. "I challenge her a bit. I'll tell her, 'Just watch me -- here's how it's supposed to be done.'"