PORTLAND, Ore. - Kimmie Meissner landed a triple axel during her free skate in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Saturday night, becoming the first American woman to complete the jump in competition since Tonya Harding in 1991.
A smiling Meissner landed the difficult jump about a minute into her program. The leap, verified as a triple axel by U.S. Figure Skating, helped the 15-year-old skater win the bronze medal, behind champion Michelle Kwan and silver medalist Sasha Cohen.
“It’s really, really cool. It’s so awesome,” Meissner said. “I want to go out and do it again.”
Meissner received technical marks ranging from 5.7 to 5.9 and artistic marks from 5.4 to 5.7.
Meissner, who won the U.S. junior title last year and the novice crown in 2003, was in fourth place going into the free skate.
“When I was warming up today and they felt really good, I thought here is a good place to try it for me,” she said about including the jump in her first nationals as a senior.
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.
Harding did three triple axels in competition, the first during her free skate at the 1991 nationals. Meissner was still in diapers.
Diane Rawlinson, Harding’s former coach, was at the competition Saturday night.
“I was very excited about it. When she set up for it, I thought she was going to do it. It was nice,” she said. “Very nice.”
Harding’s axel came before the infamous whack heard ’round the world. Hoping to clear Harding’s way to gold and glory, her live-in former 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 in the 1989 world championships, and completed another 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.
Meissner’s coach, Pam Gregory, said the teen had the jump in practice back in August, but then had back trouble and lost it.
“I just started doing them in practice last week,” Meissner said. “Seriously.”
While the other two medalists, Kwan and Cohen, head now to the World Championships in Moscow this March, Meissner is too young to compete with the seniors there. Fourth-place finisher Jenny Kirk earned the third sport at worlds for the United States.
“It would be great to go to worlds, but junior worlds will be a lot of fun, too,” Meissner said. “I look forward to it.”
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