Meissner Makes Her Move

Kimmie Meissner, an 18-year-old from Bel Air, Md., has been tutored by Richard Callaghan for more than six months in hopes of recovering from a slump over the past year.
Kimmie Meissner, an 18-year-old from Bel Air, Md., has been tutored by Richard Callaghan for more than six months in hopes of recovering from a slump over the past year. (By Koichi Kamoshida -- Getty Images)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 24, 2008

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- It looked, for a while, like an ordinary figure skating training session. Several young women executed jumps, rehearsed footwork and stole sips from water bottles as their coaches stood rinkside at Incredible Ice.

But then former world champion Kimmie Meissner fell hard attempting a jump and bungled two others during a run-through of the short program that she plans to unveil next month at Skate America, the season-opening international event.

Suddenly, renowned coach Richard Callaghan, who has been tutoring Meissner in this affluent South Florida community for just over six months, burst from the coaching box and skated across the ice. Retired skater Todd Eldredge, a six-time national champion and longtime Callaghan student who has become his coaching sidekick, followed.

With a mix of words, body language and skating maneuvers, Callaghan and Eldredge dissected Meissner's program and performance, immersing themselves in a tiny piece of what has become an exhaustive joint project to revive her career.

A celebrated 16-year-old world champion just over two years ago, Meissner saw her season crumble last winter, bottoming out in January with a mistake-laden seventh-place finish at the U.S. championships. That drove her from her home in Bel Air, Md., and Pam Gregory, her coach of five years, to this rink in a palm tree-shrouded suburb just east of the Florida Everglades.

Only after a section of choreography had been redone, and Meissner had nailed four clean double axels, did Callaghan retreat to the coaching box, and normalcy seemed to return. Or was the mid-workout flurry on the ice normal?

After the session, as Meissner unlaced her skates -- and Callaghan and Eldredge resumed an animated discussion of her program -- she noted that, at her previous training home at the University of Delaware Figure Skating Club, no coach ever stepped on the ice to teach during workouts. It simply was not done.

Nowadays, Meissner said with a grin, she often feels like a running back in the open field.

"One of the weirdest things, when I got down here, was, 'Oh my gosh, they are skating with me, chasing me around the rink,' " said Meissner, who turns 19 on Oct. 4.

"Todd makes me go faster. He's always saying, 'Go! I'm going to beat you!' . . . They come out, they look at takeoffs, they want to see landings."

So much of Meissner's life has been turned upside down, it's difficult to say what change has been the most significant, or caused the most upheaval. Desperate to get out of last season's maddening slump, Meissner sought out Callaghan on the advice of Eldredge, whom she had consulted for his expertise on spins after finishing sixth -- dead last -- at the International Skating Union Grand Prix Final last December.

After the debacle at the U.S. championships, she felt she could endure her training situation no longer and impulsively jumped to Callaghan without committing to a long-term relationship. She wanted out of her situation in Delaware but could not fathom a permanent move so far away from her close-knit family. While training in Newark, Meissner, the youngest of four siblings and only girl, had lived at home, making the 60-mile commute daily.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company