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Kimmie Meissner's out, but not down and out

January 19, 2009 | 10:10 am

Kimmie Meissner I had heard a week ago that Kimmie Meissner had a hip injury that might compromise her participation at this week's U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

So I called her coach, Richard Callaghan, who confirmed 2007 U.S. champion Meissner was being treated for the problem but also was able to train. Callaghan said Meissner still planned to compete at nationals.

Figure skaters deal with all sorts of aches and pains, and this didn't seem unusual.

But this morning, she announced her withdrawal, vowing at the same time to "get stronger and overcome my injury so that I compete at the 2010 U.S. Championships.''

One can only wish her the best.

And also wonder if the best might be to move on with her life after three seasons in which it has, at times, been painful to watch the unraveling of her career.

Meissner, 19, has not skated consistently well since winning the 2006 world championships with an utterly brilliant long program. She had been sixth at the Olympics a month earlier, and her future looked bright.

But last season was a disaster, with nearly every competition marred by multiple falls as Meissner struggled to regain footing on jumps as her body changed from that of a willowy little girl to that of a young woman. She would finish seventh at the U.S. Championships, making the world team only because three of those above her did not meet the age minimum.

That poor result made her realize some change was imperative. So just before worlds, she left her longtime coach, Pam Gregory, in Delaware and moved to train with  Callaghan in Florida. Callaghan had coached Olympic champion Tara Lipinski, world champion Todd Eldredge and U.S. champion Nicole Bobek, all of whom struggled before their greatest achievements.

In an interview with me before this season, Meissner was upbeat, willing to acknowledge her failures and learn from them.

"I think I have my confidence back,'' she said.

Her jumps did not return.

She finished eighth at Skate America, with one fall in the short program and two in the free skate.  Then she finished eighth at Cup of Russia despite staying upright in both programs, as three of her jumps in the long program were downgraded.

Hopefully it was simply a strength issue. Callaghan told me last week Meissner had found out late in the fall that she had mononucleosis, which certainly would have reduced her ability to jump securely.

Then she hurt herself sprinting on a treadmill -- racing to make up for lost time? -- and could not jump without pain.

And, yes, the Olympics are only a year away, so there is definite logic in continuing. After all, no athlete wants to look back and say, "What if?'' And none of the other top women in the United States have yet shown the consistency that would make one think it is impossible for Meissner ever to beat them again.

You just don't want this terrific young woman to beat herself up trying.

-- Philip Hersh   

Photo: Kimmie Meissner performs her ladies short program during the Cup of Russia competition in November. Credit: Yuri Kochetkov / EPA