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A friendship turned chilly?

Special to The Times

Kimmie Meissner faces some formidable opposition as she begins defense of her world figure skating title today.

There is Japan’s Miki Ando, who beat Meissner at Skate America last fall and has been landing a quadruple jump in practice. And countrywoman Mao Asada, who tosses off triple axels. And South Korea’s Kim Yu-Na, upset winner of this year’s Grand Prix Final.

Unless Reggie Bush turns up in the women’s event, though, Meissner really has nothing to worry about.

“I feel like I have to get my security because I dissed him,” Meissner said after practice Thursday.

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It happened a couple months ago in New York.

Bush, the 2005 Heisman Trophy-winning USC tailback who now plays for the New Orleans Saints, may be able to outrun tacklers, but he couldn’t avoid a Meissner smack down after keeping the figure skating champion waiting.

Both were in New York to do Subway commercials, and it seems Bush had trouble with the script.

That’s Meissner’s story, and she’s sticking to it. (Or is she just sticking her tongue in her cheek?)

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“I filmed after Reggie, who was very slow getting his lines,” Meissner said. “There was no need to be slow. It wasn’t that hard.” Right. After all, we’re talking “More meat” and “Subway, eat fresh,” not Shakespearean soliloquies.

“We got there very early and left very late because of him,” Meissner said. “It was all his fault.”

Meissner wouldn’t leave it at that. The 5-foot-3, 95-pound skater gave a little in-your-face “Nyah, nyah” to the 5-11, 200-pound NFL star.

“I told him, ‘I’m going to do so much better than you, my commercial is going to be way better,’ ” Meissner said. “I think he was definitely intimidated by me, with my figure skating muscles and everything.”

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Thursday, Meissner was determined not to be intimidated by falling four times on the triple lutz jump in practice. She spent the final five minutes of her 40-minute practice session doing seven straight lutzes, all successful.

“She needed a radical lutz-ectomy,” said Meissner’s coach, Pam Gregory, who dissuaded the skater from attempting an eighth lutz.

“Had to do some damage control,” Meissner said while stopping to sign autographs and pose for several fans -- all men -- with cellphone cameras as she left the rink.

Meissner, a high school senior from suburban Baltimore, is a celebrity in Japan, a country that has swooned for the sport since Shizuka Arakawa became its first Olympic figure skating gold medalist last year.

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The interest is remarkably widespread.

Meissner’s agent, Yuki Saegusa, found that out when a sushi chef at Tokyo’s renowned fish market asked whether she was in Japan on business or vacation. When Saegusa said she was here for the world figure skating championships, the chef was impressed.

“He knew the schedule of all the events, and he asked me about Kimmie and Mao,” Saegusa said. “I was amazed.”

Such awareness of the event has only heightened expectations for the Japanese women.

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“Obviously, there will be pressure on me as the reigning world champion, but a lot of it will be on the Japanese girls,” said Meissner, left to defend U.S. honor and avoid a medal shutout at worlds for the first time since 1994.

Thursday, the U.S. men failed to win a medal for only the second time since then.

Reigning U.S. champion Evan Lysacek, bronze medalist at the previous two worlds, wound up fifth; three-time U.S. champion Johnny Weir had his worst finish (eighth) in four worlds appearances; and worlds debutant Ryan Bradley was 15th.

Brian Joubert became the first Frenchman since 1965 to win the title, with Daisuke Takahashi of Japan second. Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland, winner the previous two years, was third.

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


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