It was a night of great performances for the ladies at the 2005 State Farm US Championships, as Michelle Kwan and unknown Kimberly Meissner made their own history, both skating to music by Ravel for their free skate.
Michelle Kwan easily captured her record-tying ninth national title with a performance to Bolero that brought the house down. Though she only landed five triple jumps, Kwan easily defeated silver medalist Sasha Cohen, and young upstart, Kimberly Meissner, who is the first American lady to land a triple Axel since Portland native Tonya Harding landed it at the 1991 US Nationals.
Dressed in gold, Kwan stole the show from the time that she stepped onto the ice for the warm-up until after her performance. Earning four perfect 6.0s and nothing lower than 5.9 for presentation, Kwan received a standing ovation that lasted for an eternity, and was showered with teddy bears and other toys as she took her bows. Kwan also earned technical marks that ranged from 5.7-5.9. “Sweet!” Kwan said of her 6.0s. “Is that a good enough answer?”
Kwan opened with a triple toe loop to double toe loop combination that inspired the crowd to cheer with such volume, that for a few seconds, Kwan’s music was inaudible. Kwan next nailed a triple lutz-double toe combination with authority, and followed that up with a gorgeous triple flip and light double Axel. Having completed the bulk of her technical elements, Kwan then took the audience on an artistic journey with original moves choreographed by Olympic Gold Medalist, Christopher Dean.
After landing an airy triple salchow, Kwan catapulted herself into a flying camel into a sit spin with arm movements representative of the music. As always, the highlight of Kwan’s free skate was a change of edge spiral sequence that inspired another round of deafening cheers. Kwan doubled her second triple lutz, but immediately stroked to the other end of the ice and nailed a triple toe loop. Kwan finished the program with a deathdrop into her closing footwork, which she completed after her music was over.
“Every title has something special about it,” explained Kwan. “I’m a sentimental person.”
In second, Cohen opened her Nutcracker program in grand fashion landing easy triple lutz-double toe loop and triple flip-double toe loop combinations. But the middle of the program lost steam, as Cohen put her hand down on a triple loop, and fell on a second triple lutz. At just over the halfway point, Cohen was done jumping, and focused on the presentation elements of the program. Since bonus points are awarded to skaters when they land jumps later in a program under the new code of points, Cohen will need to make adjustments to her programs as the competition draws near. “Because standing up on jumps is the most important thing,” Cohen insisted, “most of mine will still be in the beginning.”
Dressed in a sophisticated pink dress, Cohen amazed the audience with balletic spins, lithe-limbed spirals, and paus de deux-esque footwork. Cohen earned technical marks of 5.6 and 5.7, and presentation scores of 5.8 and 5.9. This is Cohen’s fourth silver medal in these championships.
In third place, was first-year Championship level competitor, Kimberly Meissner. Meissner stunned the audience by landing the elusive triple Axel. Though the run out of the jump was not perfect, Meissner landed the jump on one foot with full revolution, and will be credited in the record books. Skating to Ravel’s Daphis and Chloe, Meissner skated a technically brilliant performance that garnered marks of 5.7-5.9 for technical merit, and presentation scores of 5.4-5.7. Meisnner landed seven triples in all, including two easy lutzes, and triple toe-double toe-double loop combination. Meissner, who was only a toddler when Harding accomplished the same feat, said that she only decided this morning to add the Axel to her program. “It was going well in practice, and my coach and I thought that I have nothing to lose.” Because Meissner does not meet age requirements to compete in the World Championships, she will again compete at the Junior Worlds. “It’s not a disappointment,” explained Meissner. “The Junior Worlds are a lot of fun.”
Twenty year-old Jennifer Kirk, skating in an elegant pastel blue dress, performed her program to a Beatles Symphony with the showmanship of Kathryn Hepburn. Kirk landed four triple jumps, but had trouble with two others to earn the pewter medal, and earn a trip to the World Championships due to Meissner’s not meeting age eligibility requirements.
Beatrisa “Bebe” Liang, a sixteen year-old Californian finished in fifth place, and another youngster, Emily Hughes, finished in sixth place. Liang landed four clean triple jumps to a sultry tango, and Hughes five in her Sleeping Beauty program. The fifteen year-old Hughes is the younger sister of 2002 Olympic Champion Sarah Hughes, and although the physical resemblance is obvious, the younger Hughes skates with a true lutz and more attack than her sister.
Other noteworthy performances came from Megan Williams-Stewart, the only African-American lady in the competition. Williams-Stewart skated with a regal elegance and technical prowess to music from Out of Africa to finish tenth in her first senior nationals. Seventeen year-old Alissa Czisney skated to an 7th place finish with her program to music from Swan Lake. Czisney made great use of her long limbs, creating a vision of balletic genius on the ice. Last year’s pewter medalist and perennial also-ran Amber Corwin struggled in her Kismet program to finish in 8th place.
Kwan tied the record for most national titles with Maribel Vinson , a record that has stood since the 1930s. Kwan will now go back to work on her programs, after a night of admitted “celebration” to better prepare herself for the new Code of Points system at the World Championships in Moscow.
As the championships come to a close, the United States has fielded a team for the World Championships that should compete well against the world’s best. In all, there will be eight medalists from ISU Championships respresenting the United States in Moscow. The week-long festival of skating will conclude tomorrow afternoon with the Exhibition of Champions at the Rose Garden. All of the Championship medalists are scheduled to compete, along with all of the junior and novice champions. Michelle Kwan’s exhibition at press time, was still unannounced.