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Meissner takes ladies gold at Skate America

Fellow American Caroline Zhang gets bronze

Kimmie Meissner kicked off the 2007-08 season with a gold medal at Skate America.
Kimmie Meissner kicked off the 2007-08 season with a gold medal at Skate America. (Michelle Harvath)

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(10/28/2007) - Reading, Pa. -- Add 2007 Skate America champion to Kimmie Meissner's growing list of accomplishments.

The 18-year-old from Bel Air, Md., edged reigning world champion Miki Ando of Japan by 1.5 points -- 163.23 to 161.89 -- to secure her first-ever Grand Prix title. Caroline Zhang of the United States earned the bronze medal (153.35) in her first senior international competition, while 2007 U.S. silver medalist Emily Hughes placed fourth (140.50).

NBC aired the ladies free skate live from the Sovereign Center in Reading, Pa.

The 2007 U.S. champion and 2006 world champion said she wasn't sure if she'd won after hearing her scores announced.

"I didn't know," said Meissner, who shrugged her shoulders for a moment in the kiss and cry. "I knew I wasn't perfect."

Meissner, though, was good enough on an afternoon where everyone's jumps, spins and spirals received tougher-than-usual scrutiny from the technical caller. Meissner had two jumps downgraded, while Ando had one and Zhang had five.

"I think they are getting tough in general on everything -- footwork, spins and jumps," Meissner said. "Everyone is going to have to step up their games a lot. It's really hard, especially when some of the jumps from certain angles look clean, and from [other] angles don't."

Zhang was surprised so many of her jumps were declared under-rotated.

"I wasn't really expecting that," Zhang, 14, said. "I'll need to work on getting my jumps bigger and hold my spins more. This is different than juniors."

Zhang's coach Mingzhu Li said Zhang didn't have any of her jumps downgraded in the junior ranks, so she'll look at the videotape to see what happened.

For Meissner, her performance in Reading was an ideal start to the 2007-08 campaign. She led after the short program and finished second to Ando in the free skate.

"I was happy with my free skate considering it is a relatively new program," said Meissner, who scrapped her David Wilson-choreographed free skate over the summer. "I have a lot to improve on. I know it's not perfect, but I'm pretty excited about going out there and doing well.

"I think the two programs I did here were a lot better than what I did at ['07] nationals."

Ando, who has battled a right shoulder injury, said she was happy to finish second and pleased with her performance, which was tempered in terms of its overall difficulty.

"I'm not totally ready," Ando said. "I haven't trained at 100 percent, but it was exciting to be here. My body doesn't work sometimes, and I didn't try any triple-triple [combinations]. I'll just keep working hard."

Zhang once again dazzled the crowds with her spirals and spins, but stumbled when it came to her triple Salchow.

"My triple Salchow has always been one of my hardest jumps," Zhang said. "I had been having a little trouble with it during the warm-up, so I was like, 'Oh gosh, here comes the triple Salchow.'"

Zhang hopes to work on all of her jumps in preparation for the upcoming Cup of China.

"A lot of things could have been better, but it's pretty good for my first senior Grand Prix," Zhang said.

Hughes, a freshman at Harvard, turned in a solid free skate after struggling with her short program on Saturday.

"A goal of mine is to always improve upon the year before," Hughes said. "Last year I had a lower score and I was fifth so I'm really happy about that. I'm also happy I was able to put a decent program out there, while trying to balance school and skating. I'm looking forward to Skate Canada and the U.S. Championships."

Her coach, Mark Mitchell, said Hughes "showed a lot of guts. She's getting used to school and her new life in Boston, and I think she's doing amazingly well. She's right in the middle of midterms. She had one last week and has one more tomorrow."