Meissner earns first national title


SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) – Kimmie Meissner has a national title to go with her crown from the world championships.

And she has Emily Hughes to thank.

Meissner was third in the free skate Saturday at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but it was enough to give her the title after Hughes tumbled to the ice on one of her jumps. That’s an automatic one-point deduction, and it was the difference between silver and gold for the Olympians.

“Of course I would have liked to have won the free skate,” Meissner said. “I was just getting used to the world champion thing. This is a new one.”

Meissner finished with 181.68 points. Hughes, who turned 18 on Friday, had 180.86. Alissa Czisny won the free skate, but wound up third overall because she had so much ground to make up after her fifth-place finish in the short program.

The men’s final was later Saturday, with two-time world bronze medalist Evan Lysacek trying to hold off defending champ Johnny Weir.

Meissner, who turned 17 in October, was the first woman since Kristi Yamaguchi in 1991 to win a world title before earning the crown in her own country. With Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen both absent for the first time in a decade, Meissner should have had little trouble filling in the gap in her resume.

But Meissner’s never been the favorite at this level, and the weight of the expectations were clear. She put a hand down on her opening triple lutz and couldn’t tack on the triple toe loop that was supposed to complete the combination.

“I was shocked,” she said. “But I refocused and got through rest of the program.”

She did a triple flip-triple toe combo, but the landing on the second jump was shaky and she might have been downgraded. She did do a three-jump combination – double axel-double toe-double loop – that was impressive, especially since it came 15 seconds from the end of the 4-minute program.

She has great speed and uses her edges better than most. But her presentation could still use a little work. Selling a program is the toughest thing for most teenagers, and Meissner has been concentrating on it all season. She had some nice moments in her “Galicie Flamenco” number, clicking her hands like a Spanish dancer at one point. But she didn’t have nearly the fire or sass flamenco numbers deserve.

That left the door open for Hughes, the little sister of 2002 Olympic champion Sarah Hughes. And she almost made it.

Hughes is all about power and guts, and both were on full display Saturday afternoon. She’d finished third in the short program, and knew it would take her very best to win a national title.

Her opening jump, a double axel, was spectacular, so high people in the front rows had to crane their necks to see her. She did three jump combinations, including a triple lutz-double toe-double loop combo that looked effortless.

The crowd began applauding, and it looked as if Hughes might be on her way to an upset. But the rotation on her triple flip was delayed and she couldn’t hold the landing, crashing hard to the ice.

“I’m pretty happy right now,” Hughes said. “After the fall, I made the best of it. I’m just glad I came back.”

The error cost her the title. But you don’t grow up in a family of six kids without developing some toughness, and Hughes kept right on attacking through the final note. She landed one of the best triple lutzes in the competition and a triple salchow.

Because she was starting from so far back, Czisny had to wait until the very end to see if she’d wind up on the podium. But Bebe Liang fell twice, and Czisny soared right on past her.

Czisny has always been a tough one to figure out. She has more grace and talent than 10 skaters combined, but falters when it matters most. After botching the short program, though, she had nothing to lose Saturday.

Skating to music from “Sabrina,” she did Audrey Hepburn proud. She was classy and elegant, from her beautiful lines to her gorgeous black dress with white trim. Everything was effortless, including a multiple-position layback spin in which she began leaned completely over to one side and then went into a Biellmann, pulling one leg back and up to her head.

She did five clean triple jumps, two in combination. She two-footed another triple jump, but the rest of her jumps were smooth, high and controlled, the kind of technique coaches wish just one of their students would have. Her spirals drew oohs and aahs, and her final spin was so quick she was a blur on the ice.

She pumped her fists when she was done, and the audience gave her a standing ovation.