Kimmie Meissner can't wait to get back to Turin.
The U.S. figure skating champion has nothing but fond memories of the northern Italian city where she finished sixth at the 2006 Olympics. That performance was a springboard toward the world championships the next month, where Meissner skated the best free program of her life to win the title.
She heads back to Turin this weekend for the Grand Prix final, an event she didn't even qualify for last season despite being the defending world champ. Now, Miki Ando of Japan owns that crown - and, like Meissner in 2006, Ando didn't make it to the finals of the six-event Grand Prix series this year.
So the 18-year-old Meissner not only is thrilled to be in the six-woman final, but to be headed to Turin.
``I didn't have a real good chance to get around the city during the Olympics,'' Meissner said. ``I didn't get to see a lot, although I loved being at the practice rink and the people there were so friendly. I did get to see the Shroud of Turin, though, and got to a couple of restaurants.
``I'm lucky the finals are being held in Turin. But what I've got to get in my head is that it'll be completely different.''
Indeed, none of the 2006 Olympic medalists will be at the Grand Prix finals. Meissner and Italy's Carolina Kostner are the only Olympians in the woman's field. They're joined by Japan's Mao Asada and Yukari Nakano, defending champion Kim Yu-na of South Korea, and rising American sensation Carolina Zhang.
Meissner comes in off a win at Skate America over Ando and Zhang, and a runner-up finish to Asada in Paris.
``I think it's been a good season so far,'' said Meissner, a freshman at the University of Delaware, where she took nine credits in the fall semester (psychology, philosophy and English) and will take another nine in the spring (mass communications, women's studies and nutrition). ``There's been a lot of changes in my programs and they are still evolving.
``I was happy with Skate America for the first competition of the year and the first time I did the programs. I wasn't happy with the long program in Paris, but was with the short.''
Meissner has spent plenty of time on the ice, whether practicing in Newark, Del., or in a variety of specials. Her favorite has been the ``Tribute on Ice to Wynonna and Naomi Judd, `` which airs on NBC on Dec. 23. Her eyes light up when the music of the Judds or Martina McBride is mentioned.
``Very cool,'' she said with an emphatic nod and a wide smile.
Asada, the world runner-up to Ando last March, will be the favorite in Turin in Ando's absence. Meissner understands what Ando is going through sitting out the finals.
``It's difficult after such a great year or when you are on top, it's hard to match it,'' Meissner said. ``A lot of people expect perfection out of you. Nobody can do that, unless you're Michelle Kwan.''
Meissner chuckles at the thought of anyone being as consistently superb as the nine-time U.S. champion and five-time world winner.
``For me, after winning worlds, I felt I was thrown in to a situation where I had to be perfect and not do any mistakes and you can't do that. You can't skate like that. Maybe that's how Miki has (felt).''
American and Japanese men will be favored in the men's competition, too. World silver medalist Daisuke Takahashi won two Grand Prix competitions this season. So did three-time American champion Johnny Weir. Plus, current U.S. champion Evan Lysacek has skated well.
So have Canadian teenager Patrick Chan and Belgian Kevin Van Der Perren.
The sixth finalist, 2005 and '06 world winner Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland, is on the comeback trail.
Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto lead the ice dancing field along with Russians Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin. The pairs event should come down to China's Pang Qing and Tong Jian against Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao.

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