Kimmie Meissner
Getty Images

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

Leave a comment

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

Roger Federer saves 7 match points; next: Novak Djokovic in Australian Open semifinals

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Roger Federer was not going to go gently, of course, no matter how daunting the number of match points — his opponent accumulated seven! — no matter how achy his 38-year-old legs, no matter how slow his serves, no matter how off-target his groundstrokes.

Federer still plays for the love of these stages and circumstances. Still yearns for more trophies, too. Down to his very last gasp, time and again, against someone a decade younger, 100th-ranked Tennys Sandgren of the United States, Federer somehow pulled off a memorable comeback to reach the Australian Open semifinals for the 15th time.

Despite all sorts of signs he was not quite himself for much of the match, Federer beat the biceps-baring, hard-hitting, court-covering Sandgren 6-3, 2-6, 2-6, 7-6 (8), 6-3 on Tuesday in a rollicking quarterfinal that appeared to be over long before it truly was.

“For the most time there, I thought that was it. Of course, there’s little sparkles where maybe not. Then you’re like, ‘No, it IS over,’” said Federer, who only once before had won after facing as many as seven match points, equaling his personal best from all the way back in 2003. “Only maybe when I won that fourth set did I really think that, maybe, this whole thing could turn around.”

He said afterward that it had been his groin muscle that was the problem and he couldn’t be certain whether he would be fully recovered for his next match. That will come against defending champion Novak Djokovic, who overwhelmed No. 32 Milos Raonic 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (1) to improve to 10-0 against the 2016 Wimbledon runner-up.

“He was just too good,” Raonic said.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

It’ll be the 50th meeting between No. 3 Federer, who has won 20 Grand Slam titles, and No. 2 Djokovic, who owns 16.

Djokovic leads their head-to-head series 26-23, including their past five matches at majors.

“Roger is Roger. You know that he’s always going to play on such a high level, regardless of the surface,” Djokovic said. “He loves to play these kind of matches, big rivalries, semis, finals of Grand Slams.”

About the only thing that slowed Djokovic’s progression to a 37th career Grand Slam semifinal — Federer earned his 46th — was the medical timeout the Serb asked for at 4-all in the third set so he could put in new contact lenses.

“It was just something I had to do,” Djokovic said, “because those few games, I really couldn’t see much.”

The last two men’s quarterfinals are Wednesday: Rafael Nadal vs. Dominic Thiem, and Alexander Zverev vs. Stan Wawrinka.

One women’s semifinal was set Tuesday: No. 1 Ash Barty, trying to become the first Australian Open singles champion from the host country since the 1970s, against No. 14 Sofia Kenin, a 21-year-old American never before this far at any major tournament.

Wednesday’s quarterfinals are Simona Halep vs. Anett Kontaveit, and Garbiñe Muguruza vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

There was a lot to live up to after the drama of Federer vs. Sandgren.

“You can’t give a good player — let alone maybe the best player ever — that many chances to come back,” said Sandgren, his voice low, his eyes looking down. “They’re going to find their game and start playing well. That seemed to me what happened.”

In truth, so much had happened.

Federer got into a dispute with a line judge and the chair umpire over cursing. He left the court for a medical timeout early in the third set, then was visited by a trainer later for a right leg massage.

Sandgren was run into by a ballkid during a changeover in the tiebreaker; was distracted by a courtside broadcast commentator.

The 28-year-old from Tennessee has never been a major semifinalist and was trying to become the lowest-ranked man in the Australian Open’s final four since Patrick McEnroe — John’s younger brother — was No. 114 in 1991.

Imagine, then, the heartbreak for Sandgren, who toiled for years on lower-level tours and was so thrilled just to share the stage with Federer.

“Maybe,” Sandgren said, “I’ll get another look, another shot.”

After rolling through the second and third sets as Federer’s serve dropped from an average of 112 mph to 105 mph — “Wasn’t popping like it does normally,” Sandgren observed — and Federer’s unforced errors totaled 30, the underdog led 5-4 in the fourth set.

That’s when Sandgren earned his first trio of opportunities to complete a career-defining victory. But he missed a shot each time. There were four more match points in the tiebreaker at 6-3, 6-4, 6-5 and 7-6.

“Honestly, when they told me seven, I was like, ‘What?!’ I thought it was three,” Federer said. “It’s such a blur.”

Djokovic’s take on Federer’s comeback: “Amazing.”

Raonic’s: “Impressive.”

When Sandgren sent an overhead smash long to give Federer the fourth set. Federer quickly controlled the fifth and ended the victory with a service winner at 119 mph, a little more than an hour after first staring down defeat.

“Just seemed like his level picked up when his back was right up against the wall,” said Sandgren, who only got the chance to serve on one of those seven pivotal points. “He just wouldn’t give me anything.”

That’s how Djokovic makes foes feel.

The key moment for him Tuesday came rather early: Raonic went into the quarterfinals having won all 59 of his service games in the tournament. But that streak ended at 5-4 against Djokovic. On Djokovic’s ninth break point of the match, Raonic missed a forehand to cap a 19-shot exchange, handing over the opening set.

Djokovic yelled and threw an uppercut. Two Raonic service games later, he broke yet again, all he would need to own the second set, too. Soon enough, he was two wins from a record-extending eighth championship at the Australian Open.

Federer has won six titles at Melbourne Park and never lost there to anyone ranked worse than 54th. But Sandgren, whose career tour-level record is under .500, played superbly. He won more points, 161-160, and produced edges of 27-5 in aces, 73-44 in total winners.

“I mean, he never gives up,” Djokovic said about Federer. “When it matters the most, he’s focused and he plays his best tennis.”

Federer knows exactly the sort of pain Sandgren experienced.

Last July, Federer failed to convert a pair of championship points in the fifth set of the Wimbledon final before losing to Djokovic.

“These ones just sting, and they hurt,” Federer said. “But … I was incredibly lucky today.”

MORE: Top U.S. tennis player leaning toward skipping Olympics

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

World champion wins doping case citing bodily fluids from boyfriend

AP
Leave a comment

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — A world champion canoeist won a doping case Monday after persuading a tribunal that her positive test was caused by bodily fluid contamination from her boyfriend.

The International Canoe Federation (ICF) ended its investigation into 11-time world champion Laurence Vincent Lapointe, who tested positive for a steroid-like substance in July. She faced a four-year ban and could have missed her event’s Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games.

The Canadian canoe sprint racer and her lawyer detailed in a news program that laboratory analysis of hair from her then-boyfriend showed he was likely responsible for a tiny presence of ligandrol in her doping sample.

“The ICF has accepted Ms. Vincent Lapointe’s evidence which supports that she was the victim of third-party contamination,” the governing body said in a statement, clearing her to return to competition.

The legal debate is similar to tennis player Richard Gasquet’s 2009 acquittal in the “cocaine kiss” case. The Court of Arbitration for Sport accepted Gasquet’s defense that kissing a woman who had taken cocaine in a Miami nightclub, after he had withdrawn injured from a tournament, caused his positive test.

The 27-year-old Vincent Lapointe was provisionally suspended for almost six months and missed the 2019 World Championships, which was a key qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics. American 17-year-old Nevin Harrison won the 200m world title in her absence.

She can still qualify for the Olympic debut of women’s canoe sprint events with victory at a World Cup event in May in Germany.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Viral Olympic moments of 2010s decade