- Kimmie Meissner
Former world champion Kimmie Meissner working as NBC researcher for Sochi Olympics
SOCHI, Russia – Deep inside the cavernous International Broadcast Center at the Sochi Olympics, a former world champion has brought up the most bizarre story she’s come across so far in her role as an Olympic researcher, a story about a Romanian skater named Zoltan Kelemen.
“He is blind in one eye,” Kimmie Meissner says. “And he was told by his doctor years ago that every season he skates, he has to sign a waiver saying that he could go blind in the other eye at any second.”
Only a researcher would know that kind of tidbit about a skater ranked No. 53 in the world, and that's precisely the role Meissner is in now, working for NBC during these Games. A former skater herself, such a concept was alien to Meissner not long ago.
“I didn’t realize that this kind of stuff was even known about me when I was skating because, honestly, you don’t know the system that well yourself,” says Meissner, 24. “It’s good that someone does know this stuff. That’s my job essentially.”
Embedded owg_slideshow: Kristi Yamaguchi, Brian Boitano and more: Throwback Olympic figure skating stars
Meissner wasn’t just any skater. At age 16 she qualified for the 2006 Torino Olympics, where she placed sixth, then was a surprise winner at the World Championships weeks later – the last American woman to win there. The next year Meissner captured the U.S. national title and looked well on her way to making a run at Vancouver before injuries quelled her chances, forcing her to miss much of the 2009 season.
“I had Grand Prix assignments that year and U.S. Figure Skating was trying to help me,” Meissner tells NBCOlympics.com on a bus ride to the IBC. “But I didn’t want to take away a spot from someone else who could have made their debut there. It didn’t feel right.”
After missing Nationals in 2009 and the Grand Prix swing that fall, Meissner was out seven months – the longest in her career – and said coming back was a lot harder than she thought it would be. So instead she began school, first at the University of Delaware and now at Towson University in Maryland, where she is a year from getting her degree in English with a focus in writing.
For NBC, she is part of a slew of researchers that helps keep facts straight and providing the background for many stories told both online and on TV.
“We basically have to be there to answer everybody’s questions,” Meissner says of the calls the research room receives from broadcasters, affiliates and production departments. “For every skater we have to know their bios and interesting facts about them and be able to communicate that. There is a lot of stuff that I didn’t realize we needed to know about the ins and the outs of the system.”
Meissner stumbled upon the job when she caught up with figure skating friends at an event last spring; she wasn’t certain she was coming to Sochi until she got a confirmation email with her flight information.
This January the Maryland native attended a U.S. Championships for the first time since 2008, saying it was an emotional experience, but it allowed her to reconnect with old friends, like two-time Olympic medalist Michelle Kwan.
“I still fan-girl over Michelle,” she says, laughing.
Meissner walks through the IBC essentially unnoticed, one of the thousands of journalists, producers, researchers and experts who help piece the Games together for worldwide consumption. There are former Olympians doing all sorts of work here, but few you’ll find in a research room.
“Our research room is just full of so many interesting and intelligent people,” Meissner notes. “I’ve learned so much from them and it’s so much fun to be on this side. It’s still a little weird. I still feel like I should have my skates with me and be out there skating. It was so strange not packing costumes or anything like that.”
One of Meissner’s first tasks outside the research room was to head to Team Canada’s press conference in the opening days of practice, where reigning world champion Patrick Chan spoke to the media.
“I’m not sure what the emotions were, but it felt very strange,” Meissner says. “I was so used to being up where the athletes were. To sit [with the media] was weird.”
Meissner recalls the 2006 Games, when questions swirled around whether Kwan would skate or not (she didn’t). For Meissner, there were thoughts of trying to come back for the 2014 Games, but her body wouldn’t allow it.
“I thought I was going to take time off and get better, but once I stopped training, I just never got it back. I was so burnt out.”
Meissner still skates in exhibition shows, and she still has her double Axel and triple toe in her back pocket for when she needs them. But here her research shift involves a 12-hour work day and extreme attention to detail, not unlike the training schedule of a skater.
“My research partner Cindy wanted me to go into my internal bio and look at it,” Meissner says, arriving at her desk. “And, yep, it’s all accurate and up to date! It’s just amazing that there is someone who can stay on top of all of that.”
For now, that someone is her, even if it still feels odd.
“You always have a love-hate relationship with skating. I’m really happy to be back in it again. I don’t think I ever thought that I would be. When I first stopped I thought I would have nothing to do with it, but now here I am. I’m really happy to be back.”
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