Abbott soars to the fore
He earns Olympic berth with Lysacek and Weir
SPOKANE, Wash. - Jeremy Abbott came to the US Figure Skating Championships wanting a spot on the Olympic team more than a second straight national title.
He got both yesterday.
Abbott put on his most impressive performance since winning the nationals last year, peaking at the perfect time. His score of 263.66 points was 25 points more than that of world champion Evan Lysacek - a landslide under skating’s new judging system.
“I just felt so proud because this is probably the best performance I’ve ever given in my entire life,’’ Abbott said.
Johnny Weir finished fifth in the free skate, but had built up a big enough lead in the short program to stay third overall. The three-man Olympic team was announced a half-hour after the competition and, no surprise, it was the top three. During their victory lap, Abbott, Lysacek, and Weir all carried US flags as chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!’’ rang through the arena.
“I’m very honored to be part of this team and stand next to these two guys,’’ Lysacek said. “We’re going to work really hard, and we’re going to do really well.’’
Abbott imploded after winning the title last year with dismal performances at Four Continents and the world championships. That prompted him to make a coaching change last May, a decision many questioned because it came so close to the Olympics. When he started slowly this season, it seemed to back up the doubters.
But Abbott had his eye on this time of year all along, the only one of the top three who didn’t have any obvious mistakes.
“Everyone has doubt in themselves,’’ Abbott said. “That little nagging voice in the back of my head that told me I couldn’t do it, I’d believe it. I’m learning I can quiet that voice and tell it to shut up.’’
Abbott was, by far, the best all-around skater, showing off his arsenal of jumps and doing it with grace and ease. He opened with a quadruple toe loop jump, landing it more easily than some guys do triples, and also did a triple axel-triple toe combination.
With Lysacek falling on his quad attempt, those jumps might have been enough to put Abbott at the top. But he tossed in a triple lutz-triple toe-double loop combo for good measure.
Abbott’s classical program wasn’t as entertaining as his “A Day in the Life’’ short program, but he brought the house down with his final spin. It was tight and centered, and the fans were on their feet before he stopped whirling.
Lysacek didn’t have his usual flair, looking more like he was doing a test run than a true performance. Which, in some ways, he was. Lysacek, the United States’s best hope for an Olympic gold since Brian Boitano in ’88, made significant upgrades to his programs after winning last month’s Grand Prix final in hopes of improving his technical score. All but assured a place in Vancouver, he was more concerned with seeing how those changes worked.
“What happened here is absolutely no reflection of what I’m going to be like at the Olympics,’’ he said.
Good thing. Lysacek fell on his quadruple toe, one of the jumps he just added, and did a very crooked double loop. He also had to fight to save the landing of his triple axel-double toe combination, and his footwork seemed to lack in energy.
Lysacek knew it wasn’t his best - certainly not the majestic performance he had here in 2007 to win the national title.
“I have mixed feelings,’’ Lysacek said. “I’m so, so honored to be a part of a second Olympic team, and I’m saving my Olympic skate for that night.’’
Weir hit his low point after a dismal performance at nationals last year left him off the world team for the first time since 2004. He considered retiring, only to bounce back after a pep talk from his mother, and it was clear just how much a second trip to the Olympics means to him.
Weir was one-dimensional, clearly trying not to step off that podium. He popped his second triple axel into a single and stepped out of the landing of his triple-triple combination, and only his final footwork segment got the crowd going.