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SKATING

Judging takes center stage

October 29, 2007|Philip Hersh | Special to The Times

READING, Pa. -- Kimmie Meissner's coach heard before the season that there was going to be a judging crackdown on the mistakes that had been difficult to identify without the video replay equipment introduced to figure skating in the last few years.

There would be penalties for, among other mistakes, jumps with fewer than the required rotations, jumps with takeoffs from the wrong edge, and sit spins that weren't low enough.

"They [International Skating Union] have been saying these things for the last couple years, but this year they are going to enforce it," Coach Pam Gregory said. That was evident Sunday in the women's final at Skate America.

The skating was lackluster to the naked eye and even worse to the technology-aided eyes of the three-person technical panel, the officials responsible for determining whether the elements were performed as planned.

U.S. champion Meissner, who won her first Grand Prix event despite finishing second in the free skate, had two jumps downgraded from triples to doubles.

World champion Miki Ando of Japan, who won the free skate and finished second overall, had one triple downgraded.

World junior champion Caroline Zhang, making her senior Grand Prix debut, was treated like a basketball rookie as five of her triples were downgraded. Her coach, Li Mingzhu, said this was the first time Zhang's jumps had been downgraded.

"I was surprised by that," said Zhang, 14, of Brea. "I didn't really expect it. I guess I need to work harder and try to get them [the jumps] to be bigger and cleaner."

The points Zhang piled up with her breathtaking spins, especially the layback, offset her jump flaws enough to keep her in third place by a sizable margin (12.85 points) over countrywoman Emily Hughes.

Zhang finished with only one clean triple jump in her seven attempts; Meissner, three of six; and Ando, four of six. Meissner and Zhang botched the landing of one triple jump that was not downgraded.

"I was surprised to see how many times they downgraded everybody," Meissner said. "Everyone is going to have to step up their game a lot."

Meissner's downgrades almost cost her the title. She finished just 1.34 points ahead of Ando, who struggled in both programs because of shoulder problems that have forced her to scale back the difficulty of some elements and her training.

Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto of the U.S. won their fourth Skate America ice dance competition.

Philip Hersh covers Olympic sports for The Times and Chicago Tribune.

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