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Meissner wows crowd

Kimberly Meissner executes a triple Axel in the women's free skate on Saturday in Portland.
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Kimberly Meissner executes a triple Axel in the women's free skate on Saturday in Portland. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Amy Shipley Washington Post

PORTLAND, Ore. – Michelle Kwan won a record-tying ninth U.S. title Saturday night at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but it was Kimmie Meissner who turned heads – including Kwan’s.

The Rose Garden crowd cheered when Meissner landed a clean triple Axel in the warmup and positively roared when she repeated the feat during her long program, becoming the first American woman in 14 years to land one in competition.

“When I heard the big scream, I knew she landed it,” said Kwan, who skated several spots after Meissner. “It’s great for skating.”

Meissner was too young to accept the place on the world championship team she earned with her third-place finish Saturday behind Sasha Cohen, but the 15-year-old Baltimore native was plenty old enough to make history with the jump.

Meissner became the first U.S. woman to land a triple Axel since Tonya Harding did it at the U.S. championships in 1991. Meissner fought mightily to keep her balance as she completed the last rotation. When she knew the landing was secure, she broke into a broad grin that rarely left her face for the next hour, during which she learned she had moved up from fourth place at the start of the night into position for her first senior medal.

“I had a great time tonight,” she said at the post-competition news conference. “It was really fun for me, and the audience was cool. … It’s really starting to sink in that I did it, and it’s very exciting.”

Meissner’s jump – on the ice and in the standings – signaled she could be ready to make her mark internationally at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, next year. She won’t get that chance at the 2005 world championships in Moscow in March because she doesn’t turn 16 until October. The cutoff for the championships is July. Fourth-place finisher Jennifer Kirk will go instead.

“It’s not very disappointing for me,” said Meissner, who trains in Newark, Del. “I mean, it would be great to go to worlds, but junior worlds is going to be a lot of fun, too, and I look forward to doing it.”

Cohen falls flat

Cohen once again doomed herself to a second-place finish at the U.S. championships – her fourth silver medal at this event – with technical mistakes in the long program. But Cohen, who put her hand down on a triple loop attempt and fell attempting a triple Lutz, said she would nonetheless continue working on a quadruple jump. Cohen has toyed with a quad jump for the past couple of years, but she’s never tried it in competition.

“I’ve actually done it,” she said. “I can do it. I think at this point in my skating, I feel really comfortable with my jumping. I think this summer might be a good chance to start working on it again. I’ve definitely not given up on it.”

So long to the 6.0

A record 28 perfect 6.0 marks were awarded at this U.S. championships, obliterating the previous record of 15 in the last year the 6.0 system will be used at these championships (it will be replaced by the computerized judging system the International Skating Union has been phasing into competitions). Kwan, who received all 15 that were awarded at the 1998 championships, received four after Saturday’s long program and three after the short.

Johnny Weir, the U.S. men’s champion, received six, including five after Saturday’s long program. Neither he nor Kwan, however, seemed quite certain what they did to deserve the marks.

Kwan hit just five triple jumps, turning one planned triple Lutz into a double, and declared the performance just so-so.

“Tonight was not my best performance,” Kwan said. “But I had fun.”

Kwan tied Maribel Vinson for the U.S. record for national titles. Vinson won the last of her nine in 1937.

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