Age-limit rule doesn’t add up for U.S. skating

Special to The Times

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The international age-limit rule that prevents three of the top four finishers in the senior U.S. women’s event from going to senior worlds probably will create a ferocious competition for berths on the U.S. team at the 2009 world championships at Staples Center.

It would be a surprise if the three women heading to Sweden for the 2008 worlds -- former world champion Kimmie Meissner and world meet rookies Bebe Liang and Ashley Wagner -- do well enough to earn three places for the United States next year.

To get three, the finishes of the top two U.S. skaters must add up to no more than 13 -- exactly the total veterans Meissner (fourth) and Emily Hughes (ninth) produced at the 2007 worlds (third skater Alissa Czisny was 15th).


Should the 2008 skaters earn only two places, there will be no margin of error at the 2009 worlds if the United States wants three places at the 2010 Olympics. The results of the two qualified skaters also must be 13 or fewer.

“There are so many young competitors coming up,” Wagner said after finishing third in the U.S. women’s championships Saturday behind Mirai Nagasu, 14, of Arcadia, and Rachael Flatt, 15, of Del Mar. They, along with fourth-place Caroline Zhang, 14, of Brea, cannot advance to the senior worlds because of the age limit.

“Two of them are right here: 15, 14, it’s insane,” said Wagner, who is only 16. “The next two years are going to be exciting. I know it’s going to be tough, but I feel that for the U.S. ladies, that really helps us all, because it really pushes us. Going into the (2010) Olympics, that’s really what we need.”

If the current age-limit rule had been in place in the early 1990s, Oksana Baiul (1993), Michelle Kwan (1996) and Tara Lipinski (1997) would not have skated in world meets that they won.

But attempts to lower the age limit will probably fail because nearly every other country in the International Skating Union is opposed to giving the United States a further advantage in an era when younger is proving better among the women.

For this year, Nagasu, Flatt and Zhang are confined to the junior world championships in Sofia, Bulgaria.


Although the focus was on the young skaters in the national championships, a secondary story line involved the collapse of defending champion Meissner, 18, of Bel Air, Md. She finished seventh, earning a place on the world team only because of the number of ineligible skaters ahead of her.

She needs a major overhaul if she hopes to make the 2010 Olympic team. The obvious move? A new coach. That is no knock on Pam Gregory, who coached Meissner to world and U.S. titles. But it is obvious something in their relationship no longer works, given Meissner’s three-splat performances in the free skate at her last two competitions and inconsistency the last two years.

Odd to say this about an athlete weighing barely 100 pounds, but one respected coach -- who chose to remain anonymous -- thought Meissner might solve her jump issues by cutting down on the strength work in her training program.

“She looks like she is muscling up all her takeoffs,” the coach said.


In its first year as national meet broadcaster, NBC’s major market ratings for the prime-time shows were a respectable 3.8 Saturday and 3.5 Sunday -- especially since Saturday is a bad TV night, but the network may be somewhat disappointed given the amount of promotion it did.

NBC should ask U.S. Figure Skating to move the women’s final to Sunday night if it wants to capitalize on what should be a compelling battle next year among the women.


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