Asada will be Meissner's main competition in Tokyo
When Kimmie Meissner practices these days, she sometimes hears a familiar chant from her friends at the rink: "Hey Kimmie!" they yell. "More meat!"
It's a reference to her TV commercials with Subway's main ad man, Jared Fogle. In the commercials, which were taped just days after Meissner captured her first U.S. skating title in January, Jared says, "Less fat." To which she responds -- you got it -- "More meat."
Meissner's programs for the World Championships, which begin Tuesday in Tokyo, definitely have a lot of meat to them. She has one triple-triple combination planned for her short program and two in her free skate. She has yet to decide if she'll try a triple axel in the free skate, as well. Although she has been training -- and often landing -- them in practice, she won't know until she arrives in Tokyo whether she'll try one at worlds.
The last time she landed one, however, was at the 2005 U.S. Championships, when Meissner was a newcomer to the senior scene and had nothing to lose.
Now, she's got a lot on the line as reigning world champion, and a triple axel is a hefty gamble. It's worth 7.5 points if landed. If she doesn't land it, well, she could fall out of contention as quickly as Duke's basketball team did in the NCAA Tournament.
What she won't do, however, is get goaded into trying a triple axel if her competitors, mainly Japan's Mao Asada, say they'll try one at worlds. Meissner and her coach, Pam Gregory, keep regular tabs on the jump's consistency and make a decision on whether to try one in competition based on hard numbers.
"I don't really have a different answer than I've had all year," Meissner said when asked about the likelihood of her trying a triple axel in Tokyo. "It's not that I'm trying to withhold information."
What might prove to be more valuable to Meissner at worlds is if she concentrates on her spins and spirals. She lost precious points at nationals on those elements and can't afford to do that again if she is to defend her title. Gregory said they have been concentrating on "making her skating as beautiful as she is." Gregory hopes Meissner won't appear so "mechanical" on the ice.
Here are some of the women Meissner is keeping close tabs on:
Meissner couldn't avoid her if she tried, especially in Tokyo, where Asada is considered the skater to beat. She met with reporters in Tokyo last week and said her goal is to break the 200-point barrier and win the world title. Asada has come closest to the milestone, earning 199.52 points at the NHK Trophy event in Japan earlier this season. Meissner's personal best was 189.87 when she won the 2006 world title in Calgary, Alberta. When Asada is on, watch out. She has landed two triple axels in a program, which would beat many of the top international men, and she has developed a graceful style, as well. But if she falters a bit in the beginning of her program, the rest turns into disaster.
This Korean skater is among the few who have beaten Asada this season. Coached in Canada by two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser, Kim won the Grand Prix Final this season. Kim was diagnosed with a herniated disc in January and did not compete in her country's national championships.
The three-time Canadian champion is her country's best hope for an Olympic medal when the Games come to Vancouver in 2010. She tends to skate well in the short program only to struggle in the free skate.
Sarah's little sister has been nipping at the heels of a title all season long. She came close to capturing a U.S. title in January, when a late fall cost her dearly. She also finished second to Meissner at Four Continents. Hughes is a strong jumper, but she needs to add combinations to her routine if she's going to land on top of the podium. You can always count on Hughes to bring high-octane style to her skating.
Miki Ando/Yukari Nakano
Japan is so strong, some of its Olympic team members couldn't qualify for the world championships this season. Ando was surprisingly strong at the start of the season, winning Skate America (beating Meissner and Asada). Ando, who has been training with Nikolai Morozov, looked nothing like the skater who was 15th in Torino. But she faltered toward the end, placing fifth (out of six) skaters at the Grand Prix Final. She was the first woman to land a quad in competition, but that was back in 2002.
Nakano is also a strong jumper and has landed a triple axel in competition. She's not quite as artistic as some of the elite skaters, but with some home-crowd support, she could be a force at these worlds.
Amy Rosewater, a freelance writer based in Baltimore, is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.