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Rare jump in 15-year-old's repertoire

1/14/2005

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Kimmie Meissner quieted all the
speculation by landing a couple of triple axels during practice for
the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Now the question is whether the teenager will include the
difficult jump in her free skate Saturday -- and Meissner has been
keeping mum since completing the jumps on Wednesday.

"It's kind of spur of the moment for me, because I just started
doing them a little bit ago," said Meissner, a 15-year-old,
fair-haired sprite competing at her first senior nationals. "If I
feel up to it I might do it, I might not. I don't know."

Fourteen years after Tonya Harding became the first American
woman to land a triple axel in competition, the jump remains rare.
Harding is still the only American woman to do one, and only a
handful of women in the world have executed it in competition since
1992.

Before Meissner did it in practice, there was much speculation
about whether she actually could. Now it's a game-time decision. If
she decides against an attempt, she'll do a triple lutz-triple toe
loop combination, one of the more difficult triple-triples.

Her jumping skills could get her noticed in a field dominated by
eight-time U.S. champion Michelle Kwan and three-time U.S. silver
medalist Sasha Cohen. And what better place to do it than Harding's
hometown?

Kwan won the short program Thursday night, earning three perfect
6.0s for presentation. Cohen was second and Jennifer Kirk third.
Meissner was fourth, a very respectable showing for someone just
breaking into the senior ranks.

Meissner won the U.S. junior title last year, and the novice
crown in 2003.

"I hit all my jumps and I feel I skated pretty good for me,"
Meissner said. "I'm still working on it to try and get it
better."

The triple axel is considered one of the hardest jumps because
it requires tremendous strength and the ability to rotate quickly.
Skaters lead into the jump head-on, rather than backward,
increasing the level of difficulty because they must do 3½
revolutions before landing.

Just how tough is that? Studies have shown that to complete a
clean triple axel, a skater must have a rotational speed of five
revolutions per second.

Harding did three triple axels in competition, the first during
her free skate at the 1991 nationals. That, of course, was before
the whack heard 'round the world. Hoping to clear Harding's way to
gold and glory, her live-in ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, hired a
hitman to attack Nancy Kerrigan at the 1994 national championships.

Harding was banned by U.S. Figure Skating and now trains in
Portland as a professional boxer. To this day, she denies any prior knowledge of the attack or any involvement in it.

Harding wasn't the first skater to do a triple axel. Midori Ito
of Japan landed one at the 1989 world championships, and also did
two during her free skate at the 1992 Albertville Olympics.

Ludmila Nelidina of Russia and Yukari Nakano of Japan landed one
each at Skate America in 2002. Mao Asada of Japan performed one in
the Junior Grand Prix final last year.

Japan's Miki Ando landed a quadruple salchow at the 2002 Junior
Grand Prix Final, becoming the first woman to nail a quadruple
jump.

"I think that the ladies really don't give quite so much
priority on advanced content in jumping, whereas I think the men
do," said John Nicks, Cohen's coach. "They're asked to skate very
elegantly, and spin well, and have beautiful arabesques and
spirals, which the men that I've taught aren't that interested in.
They want to go out and just jump, jump, jump."

Meissner, who is just 5 feet tall, had said she wanted to skate
big enough at nationals that even the people high up in the
grandstand would take note.

"I think I did OK," she said after her short program. "I
think I could do a little bit better."