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Meissner leads ladies at SKAM

American skater on top after short program

Meissner leads the ladies after the short program at Skate America.
Meissner leads the ladies after the short program at Skate America. (Michelle Harvath)

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(10/27/2007) - Reading, Pa. -- While the last two World champions delivered strong performances, the much-anticipated senior debut of World junior champion Caroline Zhang generated the most applause Saturday night at 2007 Skate America in Reading, Pa.

The 14 year-old from Brea, Calif. earned a standing ovation from the Sovereign Center crowd for her "Spanish Gypsy" short program, which climaxed with two of her signature elements: her spiral sequence and layback spin.

The ladies free skate is slated for 4 p.m. Sunday. It will be aired live on NBC Sports.

"I thought it went well, except I think it could have been a lot better," said Zhang, who placed third behind 2006 World champion and 2007 U.S. champion Kimmie Meissnerand 2007 World champion and 2006 Skate America titlist Miki Ando of Japan. "I don't think I held my combination spin (rotations) enough, and I just think I could have performed better."

The judges also gave Zhang a deduction for taking off on the wrong edge on her triple Lutz, and the technical caller determined her intended triple flip, triple toe combination was under-rotated. The skater took the lead briefly with her score of 56.48.

Zhang's coach, Mingzhu Li, said the high expectations for her skater haven't affected her as she embarks on the senior trail.

"We have just focused on our own training," said Li, who coached World champion Chen Lu in the mid-1990s. "We still have a lot of things to work on and make more solid."

Meissner took the lead a few minutes later with her short to Peter Gabriel's "The Feeling Begins." The 18 year-old student at the University of Delaware opened with an intended triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, although element was downgraded for lack of complete rotation.

Meissner received only Level 1s on both her layback spin and straight-line step sequence.

"I was very pleased with it (performance) since it's the first time out," Meissner said of her program, which earned a score of 59.24. "I'm happy with it."

Meissner said she heard the roar of the crowd for Zhang, but tried to block it out as she took the ice.

"I was just trying to stay in my own little zone," she said. "This is certainly a great competition."

Ando turned in a good effort with her "Samson and Delilah" program, despite falling on her straight-line step sequence. She started strong, however, with a triple Lutz-double loop combination.

"My jumps have not been good lately," said Ando, who earned a score of 56.58. "They haven't been trained a lot but they are getting better. I just made a stupid mistake in the straight-line sequence."

Ando said a right shoulder injury has forced her to make some adjustments on her jumps and she hopes to do better in Sunday's free program.

Emily Hughes, the 2007 U.S. silver medalist, struggled with her triple jumps en route to a fourth-place finish.

Hughes, a freshman at Harvard, is training under Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson at the Skating Club of Boston.

"It's been really hard (juggling school and skating)," Hughes said. "It's a good challenge. I'm still trying to find my way but it's great having Mark and Peter there and the whole Skating Club of Boston atmosphere has been amazing."