Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 4. Below are some personal choices for that honor by SI writers.
11/28/2006 05:21:00 PM
My Sportswoman: Kimmie Meissner
A month after a shaky Olympic debut in Turin, Kimmie Meissner went on to win the world title in Calgary.
By Ben Reiter
Do you remember what you were doing at age 16? Wait, don't bother. Figure skater Kimmie Meissner has got you beat. At 16, she became a world champion.
When I spent a day with Meissner last January as the Turin Games approached, she had fallen on the ice so many times in the preceding weeks that she had developed a painful hematoma on her side. Meissner is the second American woman to ever land a triple axel in competition, but her triple lutz had suddenly started to give her some trouble. She simply shoved some foam rubber over the wound -- which she says hasn't fully healed 10 months later -- and kept jumping in the dim light of the University of Delaware rink, falling and jumping again.
At that point, Meissner was considered a third option on the U.S. team behind stars Michelle Kwan (who ended up dropping out due to injury) and Sasha Cohen. In Turin, Meissner -- the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic team -- performed solidly in the short program, but in the free skate those triple jumps were her downfall. She flubbed both her triple-triple combinations, but recovered well enough to finish sixth in her first-ever major international combination. See you in Vancouver, kid.
Then, a month later, came the World Championships in Calgary. "I was just on that night," Meissner told me last week from Paris of her free skate performance. "I finished my program, and I was like, 'Yes. I nailed it.'" Kimmie Meissner, a public school junior from suburban Maryland, became figure skating's world champion. Those triple jumps? Flawless, all 11 of them.
Last fall, I chose Terrell Owens as my Sportsman of the Year -- one day before the Eagles suspended him. If tomorrow SI.com is reporting that Kimmie Meissner is no-commenting her way through a set of driveway sit-ups, well, the "Reiter Sportsperson of the Year Nominee Jinx" will become official.
That's not going to happen. Personality-wise, Meissner is polite, unassuming, humble, gracious and cheerful, while T.O. is not, not, not, not and not. I'm not, however, nominating Meissner as Sportswoman of the Year because of her differences from T.O.; I'm nominating her because of the qualities she shares with him.
Both combine extreme physical gifts with the determination to use them at all costs, broken legs and hematomas be damned. Premature? Perhaps. Meissner, now 17, isn't close to her prime, which she should hit just around the time the Vancouver Olympics roll around in 2010. But I'm the guy who didn't buy stock in Apple five years ago because I thought an iPod was some sort of sentient legume, and I'm not making that type of mistake again.
Meissner is a genuinely lovely person, but that has little to do with the fact that, in 2006, she became the best competitor in the world at her sport. Off the ice, she's the anti-T.O. On the ice, she's just like him -- and that's all that truly matters.