Kimmie Meissner
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Kimmie Meissner ready to see U.S. (gold?) medal drought end

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Kimmie Meissner wouldn’t have predicted it when distanced from figure skating five years ago, but she couldn’t wait to watch the World Championships women’s short program after returning from her rink Thursday night.

Meissner is the last U.S. woman to capture a World or Olympic figure skating gold medal, taking a surprise title at the 2006 World Championships at age 16, one month after she placed sixth at the Torino Olympics.

No U.S. woman has earned an individual Olympic or Worlds medal of any color since Meissner and Sasha Cohen finished first and third at those Worlds.

The nine-year medal drought is the longest in America’s marquee winter sports event since 1924, when Beatrix Loughran earned a silver medal at the first Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France, and bronze at the World Championships.

But that streak appears extremely likely to end at Boston’s TD Garden on Saturday night (NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra, 9 ET). The gold-medal drought could snap, too.

U.S. champion Gracie Gold holds a slim 2.45-point lead following Thursday’s short program. Another American, three-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner, is in fourth place, 3.27 points back.

“I am so thrilled,” Meissner said in a phone interview Friday afternoon. “It’s time for this to happen.”

Meissner is young enough to still be competing. She is 26, which is 19 months older than Wagner. Meissner and Wagner both competed at the 2008 World Championships.

But Meissner’s career ended for all intents and purposes in 2009, forced to give up on a 2010 Olympic run due to a dislocated right kneecap and subsequent tendinitis from trying to train through it.

“I couldn’t walk down steps,” she said.

Meissner suffered the knee injury in summer 2009, bailing on a triple Axel in practice. In mid-jump, she saw a little girl in the corner of her eye in her landing zone and hit the ice awkwardly.

The Olympics are every four years, and Meissner struggled to come to terms with being sidelined from the Winter Games in her prime.

“It was a really hard transition to be an elite athlete in skating to realize my body is not letting me do this,” she said. “Probably for about three years I was just really down about everything.”

Her mind was not in the right place to return to training once healthy.

“I completely distanced myself from skating for about two years,” said Meissner, a Maryland native. “I would kind of go to the rink and think about putting my skates on and think, no, I don’t want to do this. I just don’t like it. Probably for two years I didn’t pay attention to the figure skating world.”

In 2011 or 2012, a friend called Meissner and invited her to perform in a non-competitive skating show in California.

“I don’t want to do that anymore,” Meissner told him.

But she begrudgingly accepted, believing it would be a one-and-done deal. Until she laced up her skates and performed.

“Once I did that, I was like, I love skating,” Meissner said. “Why did I ever stop?”

Meissner thought returning to skating would be like riding a bike, but in fact she had lost all of the timing and jumps she crafted to become the third-youngest U.S. woman to win a World title six years earlier.

“Mentally I needed that break to separate myself and regroup a little bit,” she said. “It was really, really humbling coming back. I didn’t have any of my jumps anymore. I lost everything.”

Meissner thought about what it would be like to compete again, even at times in the last year as she regained the ability to perform triple jumps for shows.

“I find it hard to be at an event, because I feel like I should lace my skates up,” she said. “But that’s obviously not happening.

“I think to myself, oh wait a minute, I don’t want to do long programs,” Meissner said with a laugh.

Meissner became ensconced in skating at the Sochi 2014 Olympics, where she worked as a researcher for NBC.

It was there in Russia where she had a memorable conversation with her 2006 Olympic teammate, Michelle Kwan. Meissner told her idol that she still yearned to compete. Kwan said she missed it, too. That calmed Meissner.

“Once you’ve made it to that level in sport, you love it enough to put work and time into it, it’s never going to go away,” Meissner said. “Once I started hearing that from my peers, I was like, OK, it was easier to come to terms with.”

Meissner has coached the last few years at Ice World in Abingdon, Md., while also studying. She’s taking classes to become a physician’s assistant. She believes she can make time for both vocations.

Her pupils include seven girls and one boy between the ages of 10 and 15. One of her girls has skated at U.S. regionals twice and almost made sectionals, which is one step from the U.S. Championships.

“I would love to coach at Nationals,” Meissner said.

Meissner coached at the Abingdon rink on Thursday evening as Gold skated to the lead. Meissner constantly checked for updates on Twitter before getting home to pull up videos of the Americans’ short programs.

In 2006, Meissner used neither Twitter nor Facebook. She spread the word of her World title in Calgary via text messages and calls on her flip phone. She believes that a win by Gold or Wagner on Saturday could have a greater impact on the sport than when she came home with a gold medal the size of a Snapple cap a decade ago.

“Social media has really changed the way people receive athletes,” said Meissner, who sees her medal only a few times per year as it’s on display at the Sports Legends Museum in Baltimore. “Back in the day, you weren’t able to share in the moment.

“Hopefully it would bring more attention to the sport. I would love to see a rise in attendance at the events. I think this should really do it. Ashley, Gracie and Mirai [Nagasu, in 10th place after the short program] are really recognizable in the sport, to the fans.”

Meissner does not have coaching responsibilities Saturday night. She will gather with friends to watch the free skate on TV, hoping to shed the title of last U.S. woman to win a gold medal.

“I have a really hard time watching other people skate,” she repeated. “My anxiety level will be high.”

PHOTO: Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir in ice sculpture form

Carreira, Ponomarenko understand the depth of U.S. ice dance at nationals

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GREENSBORO, N.C. Heading into the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro this week, up-and-coming ice dancers Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko focused on their “quads” not four-revolution jumps, but still pretty tough to execute.

“(Our coaches) have us doing double run-through weeks, triple run-throughs, even quadruple run-throughs, to make sure we’re fully ready,” Carreira said. “We’re drilling a lot more, so at nationals we go in 100 percent confident.”

Pasquale Camerlengo, who trains the team along with primary coach Igor Shpilband, agreed that the run-up to Greensboro has been grueling for the skaters from Novi, Mich.

“We always plan a week we call the quads, performing (programs) four times,” Camerlengo said. “We’re trying to make them ready physically and work their stamina, to handle their programs in competition, which is a little bit different than in practice. Physically, they’re ready for it.”

Tough practices are just one component of what’s been a challenging but productive sophomore senior season for the two-time world junior medalists, fifth in the U.S. in 2019.

Thus far, they’ve competed at six international competitions, stretching from Lake Placid, N.Y., in August to NHK Trophy in Sapporo, Japan, in late November. Six is a lot, considering other top teams they’ll compete against in Greensboro have competed three to five times so far this season.

“Igor wants to get more experience at the senior level, and also more world points,” Carreira, 19, said. “For that we have to compete. We get out there and compete as much as we can, so our programs feel more trained.”

Those programs – a rhythm dance to Cole Porter’s “It’s Too Darn Hot” and flamenco free dance to “Farrucas” – stretch their abilities far more than last season’s routines. Competing every two weeks or so left little time to make adjustments, so the past six weeks were the key to their preparation for Greensboro.

“We pushed a lot of changes we needed to make until after NHK, to smooth out the programs and really train them,” Ponomarenko, 19, said.

He added that the grueling first half of 2019-20 was a necessary ice dance rite of passage.

“It’s very different from our first season. We really didn’t know what to expect. Now we kind of know where we’re at and how we can improve. We definitely feel the sophomore slump this year, but we just want to compete and keep putting our good performances.”

On paper, Carreira and Ponomarenko’s 2018 Grand Prix results – which included a bronze medal at Rostelecom Cup – look more impressive than the sixth-place finishes they earned at Skate America and NHK this season. But the skaters don’t think the placements tell the full story.

“Last season, results-wise, it might have looked better, because a lot of (top) teams took the Grand Prix season off last season,” Carreira said. “This season, I feel our programs are more difficult and we’re skating better. We want to improve our consistency so that we can compete with the top teams.”

It doesn’t take much to lose points in an ice dance routine, especially on step sequences and “twizzles,” a series of fast rotations moving across the ice. A few slips here – including a small mistake on their twizzles in the rhythm dance at Skate America – can easily drop teams out of the top group.

“They always have the feeling they could do more,” Camerlengo said. “But the season is a progression. They’re getting better and better. That’s the goal, to have them (be) more reliable.”

“They need to do what they’re capable of,” he added. “They just have to do what they’ve learned, with no fear, and just go for it.”

In Greensboro, Carreira and Ponomarenko will have to throw caution to the wind to grab one of the three U.S. ice dance spots at the 2020 World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal this March.

With Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, very likely battling for gold, the Michigan skaters have their sights set on bronze. It’s a herculean task, considering the reigning U.S. bronze medalists, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, qualified for the Grand Prix Final last season and notched career-best scores at Skate Canada this fall.

All three of those teams train together in Montreal. 

But Carreira and Ponomarenko think their programs, strengthened by adjustments and all of those quadruple run-throughs, give them a fighting chance.

“(A bronze medal) is more realistic now than last season,” Carreira said.

“I believe we’ve really grown as skaters,” Ponomarenko said. “Our programs are much more difficult, which has really helped us improve. I believe the podium at nationals is very reasonable. It could be achieved with some good skating.”

Other teams could be in the mix. Last season, Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter placed a strong fourth, but injuries forced them to withdraw from one of their Grand Prix events this fall. A new pairing, Caroline Green and Michael Parsons, has gelled quickly, winning two medals at Challenger Series international events.

“The level of U.S. ice dance level is high, the depth in the U.S. is really the top worldwide,” Camerlengo said. “But the podium, it is reasonable for Christina and Anthony. They have been working hard and they have a very good level to fight for the medal. We’ll see how they will perform here. They’re ready for it.”

Not all of the team’s challenges are on the ice. The Montreal-born Carreira – who has lived and trained in Novi since she was 13 – faces hurdles gaining her U.S. citizenship, without which the couple cannot compete at the Olympics. Last May, she petitioned U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to be deemed an “alien with extraordinary ability” under the immigration code, which would help smooth the way for legal permanent residency status. She was denied and filed suit against the USCIS, later dropping the action.

Carreira is still working to achieve a pathway to U.S. citizenship and prefers not to discuss the issue.

“I can’t really say anything,” she said. “We’re working on it, we’re hoping for the best.”

Citizenship issues never entered the skaters’ minds when they teamed up in the spring of 2014. Ponomarenko and his parents, 1988 Olympic ice dance champions Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, had long admired Carreira’s skating. When he and his former partner Sarah Feng split after the 2014 U.S. Championships, he tried out with Carreira in Novi.

“We really worked well together from the beginning,” Ponomarenko said. “I had wanted to skate with Christina for a really long time even before getting together, so it was no-brainer. The bump in the road (citizenship) can be worked through.”

“There were so many good factors it would be, I think, stupid to let something that can be fixed get in the way of (our partnership),” Carreira said. “We didn’t even think about it.”

The ice dance competition in Greensboro kicks off with the rhythm dance on Friday afternoon, with medalists decided with the free dance on Saturday night.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Coronavirus forces Olympic soccer and boxing qualifiers to move

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Olympic qualifying events in two sports were moved from the Chinese city of Wuhan on Wednesday because of an outbreak of a deadly viral illness.

A four-nation Asian qualifying group for the women’s soccer tournament was switched from the city at the center of the health scare to Nanjing.

The Asia-Oceania boxing qualifying tournament scheduled for Feb. 3-14 in Wuhan was cancelled. No new plans were announced.

The decisions followed Chinese health authorities telling people in Wuhan to avoid crowds and public gatherings.

The Asian Football Confederation said the round-robin group — featuring host China, Australia, Taiwan and Thailand — will be played on Feb. 3-9, retaining the same dates, in Nanjing.

More than 500 people have been infected and at least 17 killed since the outbreak emerged last month. The illness comes from a newly identified type of coronavirus.

Cases have also been reported in the United States, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. All involve people from Wuhan or who recently traveled there.

In the soccer qualifiers in China, two teams advance to a four-nation playoff round in March. That will decide which two teams from Asia join host Japan at the Tokyo Olympics.

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