Nine U.S. Titles for Kwan and a Triple Axel for Meissner

by Amy Partain
Michelle Kwan with her 2005 State Farm U.S. Championship gold medal
Photo by Paul Harvath

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(1/15/05) — Saturday night belonged to Michelle Kwan, as has the final night of the U.S. Championships for the last seven years. But newcomer Kimmie Meissner took her share of the spotlight. The last skater in the first group, Kwan, and the first skater in the last group, Meissner, each made history.

Kwan's history-making moment came when she won the ladies title at the 2005 State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships — her ninth U.S. title, which ties the record for U.S. titles held by Maribel Vinson since 1937.

“There's a cosmic connection between me and Maribel,” Kwan said. “She taught Frank Carroll and Frank coached me for 10 years. To be with her (in the record books) is something else.”

Meissner's moment came on the third jump of her program when she landed a triple Axel. She's the first U.S. woman to complete a triple Axel since Tonya Harding. Harding performed the first triple Axel at the 1991 U.S. Championships in Minneapolis, Minn. And ironically, Meissner's triple Axel was performed in Portland, which is Harding's hometown.

“It was so cool,” Meissner said of landing the jump. “When I did it in warm-up I said, ‘That's it, I'm doing it.'”

Amazingly Meissner just began landing the triple Axel consistently a week before the U.S. Championships. Her coach, Pam Gregory, said she had been landing them in August but had to stop practicing the jump after suffering a back injury.

The technical scores for Meissner's free skate ranged from 5.7 to 5.9, which put her in third place over Jennifer Kirk who fell on the triple loop and stepped out of the triple flip. Meissner won the bronze medal, but she is too young to go to the 2005 World Championships in Moscow in March. To compete at Worlds, a skater must have turned 15 by July 1 of the previous year. Meissner turned 15 in October 2004.

When Kwan was 15, in 1996, she won her first U.S. title.

While the night was memorable for Kwan, the performance wasn't. She was disappointed in her free skate in which she doubled her triple Lutz and finished the program after the music ended. Kwan said she was a little nervous before her performance and tightened up on the Lutz.

Kimmie Meissner in mid-air for her triple Axel
Photo by Michelle Harvath
“I have a lot of work to do before Worlds,” Kwan said. “I'll celebrate tonight then it's back to work tomorrow.”

Kwan's longevity in the sport is evident when you look at the first triple Axel landed at a U.S. Championships and the latest one landed. In 1991, Kwan was a novice competitor who didn't make the U.S. Championships. But her sister Karen Kwan did qualify and the family made the trip to Minneapolis to watch her compete. So Kwan was in the stands watching Harding compete at the event.

Saturday night Kwan was waiting to skate when Meissner landed the triple Axel. She heard the crowd scream and knew Meissner had landed it. Then she saw the replay several times on the ABC monitors. Kwan was excited about Meissner's accomplishment too.

“It's amazing for skating,” Kwan said, “and for an American skater, it's fantastic. This is the hometown of Tonya Harding, so it's the perfect place for her to try and land it.”

More than 13,000 Portland fans were on hand to see the triple Axel, along with Kwan's competition-ending free skate. The crowd roared with approval for Kwan, giving her a standing ovation for the performance. It was only fitting that Kwan, the "Queen of the 6.0" received probably the last 6.0s ever at the U.S. Championships. Most likely the U.S. will adopt the ISU new judging system next year. Cohen had a less then stellar skate, putting her hand down on the triple loop and falling on the triple Lutz. She said she was proud that she skated the program “full out” but was disappointed in missing the jumps.

“It's not part of my overall plan to not skate a perfect program,” Cohen said.

In December Cohen returned to California and again began training with John Nicks, who coached her for six years earlier in her career.

Kwan and Cohen have been named to the 2005 U.S. World Team, as has Kirk who finished fourth.