TOKYO // It can take Kimmie Meissner nearly a half-hour to walk the two blocks from the Meiji Jingo practice rink to the main venue at the municipal gymnasium.
Girls holding World Figure Skating Championships programs squeal, "Kimmie, Kimmie, please stop."
Groups take turns posing for photos with the defending world champion, even enlisting one of her coaches to act as photographer. Young men pull cell phones from their pockets to get a quick snapshot. A teen holds out a baseball, seeking an autograph.
"That's a new one," says Meissner, 17, as she signs the sweet spot like any major leaguer. "I signed when I threw out the first pitch in Philadelphia, but not at a skating event."
She's not exactly Nanase Aikawa, a popular rock singer, but she is attracting a lot of attention, and not just from fans.
Crews from both Fuji Television and the NHK network have come to Maryland to do feature shows on the skater from Bel Air.
"Kimmie is very popular. Everyone knows her," said Hideki Nakaya, a writer for the newspaper, Chunichi Sports.
All this, even though Japanese skating fans have their own talented athletes to cheer at this event: Mao Asada, Miki Ando and Yukari Nakano.
Indeed, the official program mentions Meissner only in passing, concentrating instead on Asada and her teammates and former Japanese stars, such as 1992 Olympic silver medalist Midori Ito, 1994 world champion Yuka Sato and 2006 Olympic gold medalist Shizuka Arakawa. If Meissner had been counting on flying low and letting the full pressure of the spotlight fall on her rivals, it hasn't been completely successful.
"She is so easy to like. Her smile is warm and genuine," said Mayumi Fujimori, who waited outside the practice rink for a half-hour for Meissner's autograph.
Others nodded, bowed and beamed as Meissner approached.
"I'll tell you what, that's cool," said Meissner as she signed her picture with a black marker.
It's been a struggle regrouping after a 14-hour flight that began Sunday and a shortened practice schedule.
Tuesday, her first full day here, Meissner said her legs "felt like spaghetti." The next day, she was joined by teammates Alissa Czisny and Emily Hughes. All three looked a little ragged as practice began, but perked up as muscles remembered their jobs.
Debbie Czisny, the skater's mother, smiled as her daughter landed a triple jump.
"I knew her brain would be ready, but I wasn't sure about the body. I guess the brain ruled this time," she said.
Meissner's coach, Pam Gregory, agreed.
"Kimmie's getting her legs back. When competition starts, she'll be right there," Gregory said of her student. "Now, it's just a mental game, to stay calm and focused."
To keep things loose Wednesday, she hung out with Peggy Fleming, the 1968 Olympic gold medalist.
Fleming, who won the world title three times, knows a lot about the pressure of being No. 1.
"So much of performance at this level is controlling nerves," she said.
During her 40-minute practice yesterday, Meissner couldn't find the handle on her triple lutz and fell four consecutive times. Frustration showed on her usually calm face and she engaged Gregory several times in animated conversation.
"I had to do damage control on the lutz," Meissner said afterward.
So she went out in the final five minutes of her ice time and snapped off seven clean ones in a row.
"I would have kept going but [Gregory] said, 'No.' I have to get mad enough, and then I do it," Meissner said. "That's the way I fix things. I think I have it down, now."
On two occasions, Meissner almost tangled with another skater. The first time, she and Canadian champion Joannie Rochette came within inches of colliding. Then Meissner was right behind Rochette when she almost was sliced by the blade of a skater in a camel spin.
"They say figure skating is not a contact sport, but it is," Meiss- ner said.
Meissner said she loves the building competition between her and Asada.
"I think it's good for both of us. I think we push each other," she said.
"It's not about winning," she continued. "I can't control the judges, so all I can do is skate well. If I do that, I'm satisfied. I'd love to repeat, but it's hard. I've never been in a position to defend anything. The first time is almost easy."
She made it look that way about a year ago with a flawless long program that contained seven triple jumps.
The video ends with Meissner at center ice in Calgary, her hands covering her face and the audience on its feet, roaring its approval.
"I don't really watch it that much. I watched it a lot right afterwards, after I won, but now not for a while," she said. "That was last year. Hopefully I can watch this year's a lot."
• Note // Brian Joubert of France earned the gold medal yesterday at the world championships, but the day belonged to Japan's Daisuke Takahashi, who took second place with an intense long program that brought his hometown crowd to its feet and reduced him to tears. Joubert, 22, ended the competition with a score of 240.85. U.S. champion Evan Lysacek, 21, who entered the day in fifth place, never looked comfortable from the opening notes of "Carmen" and could not improve on his position. Teammate Johnny Weir, 22, the former U.S. title holder, looked even more lost and dropped four places to eighth. Ryan Bradley finished 15th.
Meissner's short program
Meissner's short program components, skated to "Snow Storm," by Georgy Sviridov
• Choreographer: Nikolai Morozov
• Personal best score: 60.17 at 2006 world championships
• Triple lutz-triple toe loop combination
• Triple flip
• Layback spin
• Spiral sequence
• Double axel
• Flying sit spin
• Straight line step sequence
• Combination spin with foot changeCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times