Wed, Oct 25, 2006 - Page 18 News List

Kimmie Meissner, Mao Asada stealing the spotlight

AP , NEW YORK

Mao Asada performs in the Campbell Cup figure skating competition at the US Bank Center in Cincinnati on Sunday.

PHOTO: AP

A post-Olympic year usually is when young, unheralded figure skaters grab the spotlight. Kimmie Meissner and Mao Asada didn't bother to wait.

The teenagers got a nice jump on making headlines last season when Asada won the Grand Prix Final over Irina Slutskaya and other more renowned and experienced women. Then the US' Meissner took the world championships.

Let their rivalry, perhaps spiced by triple axels, begin as Skate America opens the season tomorrow in Hartford, Connecticut.

"I've been competing with her in the junior ranks, I really like her, she's very competitive," the 17-year-old Meissner said. "I would always hang out with the Japanese skaters and try to figure out what they were saying and they would try to figure out what I was saying. It was a lot of fun."

"She's a great athlete and I look forward to competing with her," she added.

Asada was 15 when she won the Grand Prix Final last December, then she landed two triple axels in the Japanese championships. But she was too young to skate at the Turin Olympics or the world championships, so much of the skating public was unable to see the rising star.

She will be in Hartford for the first of six Grand Prix meets leading to the final in St Petersburg, Russia, in December.

"I experienced many things throughout last season, so I hope it really helps for this season," said Asada, who is being coached by Rafael Arutunian, who last worked with Michelle Kwan. "I think I can show what I have done through practice so far."

The Meissner-Asada matchup is the most intriguing story in women's skating now that Kwan, Slutskaya and Olympic bronze medalist Sasha Cohen aren't planning Grand Prix appearances. None is expected to compete this season.

And the triple axel adds spice to the budding rivalry. Asada is likely to try the three-and-a-half-revolution jump every time she laces up her skates, and Meissner has been hitting it consistently in practices after skipping it last season to concentrate on overall improvement.

The most improvement came at the worlds, where she surged to the gold medal with a spectacular free skate.

"I definitely carried that high through the shows and the summer," said Meissner, a student at Fallston High School in Maryland. "I had maybe one week where I took a breath and came down, and now I am really geared up and training, although I still think about it and how it felt at worlds in Calgary. It's made me look forward to this season."

Other Olympians entered in women's competition at Skate America are the US' Emily Hughes, Switzerland's Sarah Meier, Australia's Joanne Carter, Japan's Miki Ando, Canada's Mira Leung and Finland's Kiira Korpi.

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