By Philip Hersh
9:35 PM PST, January 10, 2014
BOSTON -- Jeremy Abbott nearly fell on a jump.
But it was merely his jump for joy after a performance in Friday's short program at the U.S. Championships that recalled what a wondrous skater Abbott can be when he lands the jumps that count.
After struggling since winning his third U.S. title in 2012, Abbott finally put together a program with accomplished athleticism to complement his always striking artistry.
The result was a record 99.86 points from judges generous with their scores all night, first place in the short program by more than seven points and a leg up on a second Olympic appearance.
"I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks," said Abbott, 28, of Aspen, Colo., oldest of 19 men in a field he crushed.
Abbott opened with flawless execution of his toughest trick, a quad toe-triple toe jump combination. Everything else was equally good as he bettered the U.S. Championships short program record of 92.04 that Ricky Dornbush had set earlier in the evening.
Jason Brown was third at 87.47. Defending champion Max Aaron was fourth at 86.95. The men's free skate is Sunday. Only two men will advance to the 2014 Olympic team.
"This is a night I will never forget," Abbott said.
In his final U.S. Championships, he brought back the forgotten Abbott who had utterly dominated the 2010 and 2012 nationals.
Where had that skater been?
"Slowly putting in the work," Abbott said. "After the 2012 season, we revamped everything and made a strong and steady plan. We have been seeing the progress at home even if sometimes audiences may not have been. When things didn't work in competitions, I still believed in what we had done."
For all that, Abbott came into the short program haunted by fears of coming apart.
"Every night for the past week, I was having this dream where I just imploded in the short program," he said.
Dornbush, like Abbott, had given little evidence in recent seasons he had such a dazzling skate in him.
The 22-year-old from Riverside finished second in the U.S. in 2011 but fell to 13th and sixth the last two years. Equipment problems and injuries factored into that decline, but he knew where the fault really lay.
"Tonight, I finally set my own big enemy aside — me," Dornbush said.
Before he took the ice, Brown's coach reminded him what was at stake and how to go after it.
"This is the Olympic year, and you fight for everything you can," Brown said that coach Kori Ade told him. "You fight for trying to do the best spins you can, you fight for every jump you can."
Those words stayed with Brown when he found himself slightly off-kilter as he approached the landing of the triple axel, his first — and most difficult jump.
Fall, and his hopes to make the Olympic team would be over in less than a minute.
"When I landed the triple axel, I said, 'I'm not letting this go,''' said Brown of Highland Park, Ill. "After that, I couldn't wait to move on to the next jumps and continue to perform."
And perform Brown did, skating with a seamless flow, a compelling musicality and a confidence that allowed him to execute three ensuing jumps with power and precision. Then he fought to stay upright after making a last-second adjustment on the final spin, so it would finish with his facing the judges.
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