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Second chance for Meissner at figure skating Worlds

China Daily | Updated: 2008-03-19 07:22

DETROIT, Michigan: Kimmie Meissner hopes a change of coach and the gift of a spot in this week's World Figure Skating championships will help to salvage a career that has been on a dizzying downward spiral.

Two years ago, when she was 16, the American was the toast of the figure skating world, captivating fans and judges with a combination of daring athleticism and girlish charm to claim the 2006 world title.

This week, it will be a somewhat less effervescent Meissner stepping on to the ice in Gothenburg, Sweden, for the World Championships, her crowns gone along with her confidence, buried under a string of stunningly poor performances.

In a sport increasingly dominated by younger skaters, there are already whispers that Meissner's time has come and gone.

 Second chance for Meissner at figure skating Worlds

Kimmie Meissner performs her short program at the World Figure Skating Championships in Tokyo on March 24, 2007. Reuters

Last March, she surrendered her world title to Japan's Miki Ando and in January she stumbled to an embarrassing seventh place at the US Nationals while 14-year-old Mirai Nagasu skated away with her crown.

"Obviously, I haven't had the best couple of competitions. I'm just trying to work on getting my confidence level back up and really feeling consistent with my jumps and program," Meissner told reporters during a conference call ahead of the championships, which opened on Tuesday.

"I'm just trying to get in a good state of mind so I can go out there and perform the way I would like to. I know I can do better."

Last place

Despite her terrible results, which included a last place at the Grand Prix finals in December, US skating officials displayed confidence in Meissner by naming the 18-year-old to the world squad because of her experience.

She was also helped by the fact that three of the skaters who finished ahead of her at the US nationals, including Nagasu, were too young to compete at the senior worlds.

Meissner moved quickly to capitalize on her second chance, sacking long-time coach Pam Gregory to train with Richard Callaghan, the former coach of 1998 Olympic champion Tara Lipinski and 1996 world champion Todd Eldredge.

"I laugh because I had a previous US champion when he was 30 (Eldredge)," said Callaghan, scoffing at the slightest suggestion that Meissner's best was behind her. "Her strength is her total package.

"Her age has developed a more polished performer and we're working on that right now that she shows it off. She has developed a personality on the ice that I think will make a big difference."

While coaching changes are not uncommon among figure skating's elite, Meissner's move was unexpectedly bold.

Not only did she cut ties with Gregory but she moved out of the family home in Bel Air, Maryland, to live on her own and train with Callaghan in Florida.

The fruit of their collaboration will be on display on Wednesday and Thursday in Sweden but both refused to speculate on what it might produce, Callaghan saying only that he felt "very positive about the events coming up".

"I feel like Mr Callaghan has been great for my confidence," added Meissner. "He's a great coach to have around, he makes sure every day is positive and helps me just to relax and have fun. He works very well with my personality.

"Things have been going really well. We worked on everything. I feel very confident that I'm a lot better and I feel a lot better. Hopefully everyone can see what I feel."

When Meissner grabbed the figure skating spotlight in 2006 her youthful exuberance and unbridled joy shone out and her immense talent and even bigger smile lit up arenas.

She was immediately hailed as the new face of a sport still struggling to win back fans in the aftermath of the Salt Lake City Olympic judging scandal.

Those weighty expectations and demands, however, proved too much for Meissner, who said the seeds of self-doubt had been planted long before this season.

"It probably started right after I won the Worlds," she said. "You start to kind of doubt yourself because you feel like you have to be perfect every time.

"It was a lot for me to handle. I was trying just as much as I could, there was just a lot going on and it just needed to be addressed.

"I stepped up and made the decision. It's been difficult but I feel like I'm in a better place now."


(China Daily 03/19/2008 page22)

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