Jeremy Abbott wins second straight U.S. figure skating title
The two men who have been in an Olympics, Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir, shared both mixed feelings about their flawed performances Sunday and the hope the best will come a month from now in Vancouver.
The man going to his first Winter Games, Jeremy Abbott, may find it hard to top what he did.
And he may not need to, for Abbott’s free skate was such a tour de force it not only turned an expected close competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships into a rout but was easily good enough to win an Olympic medal -- even gold.
If he can do it again, that is.
“Putting out the performance I did definitely makes a statement to the whole world,” Abbott said after winning a second straight U.S. title with 7 minutes 15 seconds of extraordinary skating.
The judges gave positive grades of execution to all 21 elements -- jumps, spins, footwork -- Abbott did in the short program and free skate. No other man has gotten such grades in the five U.S. championships under the new judging system.
The only thing Abbott left unsaid was whether he can do it in an international championship event, where his record is decidedly spotty: 11th in the last two world championships, fifth in the last two Four Continents Championships.
“It’s not that I have to prove to anyone that I’m a great skater,” he said. “I know what I can do.”
From the moment Sunday he began moving to hauntingly powerful music from Saint-Saens’ Third Symphony, the 24-year-old Abbott was a picture of athletic brilliance and artistic sensitivity. Nothing showed that better than his hitting the opening jump, a quadruple toe loop, at a sublime moment in the music.
Abbott added eight triple jumps, including two followed by another triple-jump in combination, one a triple-triple double. Only his spins were less than the highest quality.
“I didn’t feel perfect today,” Abbott said. “There were certainly things I could have improved upon. And we are upping the difficulty just slightly [for the Olympics] with a second triple Axel.”
Abbott scored a U.S. championships-record 263.66 points, beating reigning world champion Lysacek by 25.03 and Weir by 31.57.
Ryan Bradley finished fourth, 6.12 behind Weir, after captivating the Spokane Arena crowd with an alluring portrayal of a baroque dandy who could also land two quadruple jumps.
Bradley was second in the free skate and likely missed the Olympic team because he doubled two planned triple jumps after landing a quad in the short program.
Lysacek tried a quad and fell. Weir, as usual, seemed more concerned about cutting a striking figure than the utterly unremarkable skating that left him fifth in the free skate.
“My costume looked pretty,” Weir said.
In 2006, when Lysacek and Weir were finishing fourth and fifth, respectively, at the Olympics, Abbott could not even qualify for the senior national championships. His improvement has been striking.
He was not content by having won a national title last year, making dramatic changes once the season was over. Abbott left Colorado and veteran coach Tom Zakrajsek for Detroit and Yuka Sato, the 1994 world champion who never before had coached a top skater.
“Any time you make huge changes, there is always risk involved and always doubt,” Abbott said.
Oddly, doubt had long been his nemesis. “That little nagging voice in the back of my head, when it told me I couldn’t do it, I believed I couldn’t,” Abbott said. “I am learning I can tell that voice to shut up.”
That has allowed his skating to speak for itself, like poetry in motion.