Retooled Abbott seeks ultimate redemption in SochiFour-time U.S. champ hopes to close out career with Olympic medal
This time, Jeremy Abbott is a man with a plan.
In his final competitive season, the 28-year-old skater has retooled everything from his diet and on- and off-ice training strategies to the way he interacts with his support team at the Detroit Skating Club (DSC), all with an eye toward delivering his best performances at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.
"We made a plan over the last two years and really stuck to it," Abbott said on a media teleconference last week. "It's been progressing kind of methodically, just slow and steady. I have been seeing the progress at home, and you guys all saw it [at the U.S. championships] in Boston."
Earlier this month, Abbott captured his fourth U.S. crown with programs that melded subtle artistry with superb technique. His short program -- including a quad toe-triple toe combination, his first ever in a short -- gained nearly 100 points, shattering his own U.S. record. He reduced several of the planned triple jumps in his free skate to doubles but hit another quad as well as a triple Axel combination.
The programs outshone Abbott's performances on this season's Grand Prix circuit. His coach, Yuka Sato, confirmed that was according to plan.
"As everyone knows, Jeremy has his moments where it's amazing, but he's always had a bit of a challenge recovering every time he gives 100 percent, to come back and start training to get even better," said Sato, who trains Abbott with Jason Dungjen. "So, we restructured everything so we can train, [build in] recovery and have those amazing moments [in Boston] and, hopefully, in Sochi."
In 2010, Abbott handily defeated Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir to win his second U.S. title in Spokane, Wash. His outstanding programs made him a medal candidate at the Vancouver Olympics, but disappointing performances put him ninth.
On his teleconference, Abbott called his first Olympic appearance his "own personal nightmare."
"I was absolutely terrified; I was scared out of my mind," he said. "I didn't have any goals for the Games; my only goal was to make the team. I skated perfectly at nationals, and I had people coming up to me saying, 'Oh, you do that, you're going to win the Olympics.'
"I hadn't even thought about winning the Olympics, or medaling at the Olympics, or about anything other than going," he continued. "So, I was freaking out. I don't even know how I got myself to do that in the first place and you want me to do it again?"
Abbott began this Olympic season determined to avoid mistakes of the past.
"I know exactly how I did it in Boston and how I went about my training," he said. "It's not like I have perfect days and every day is exceptional. I know what I'm doing and I know how to build my training."
A back injury that flared up at 2012 Skate America helped convince Abbott he needed to make substantial changes to keep his aging athlete's body on track. He, Sato and Dungjen put more emphasis on quality over quantity during his on-ice sessions.
"Our goal was to practice like it's a competition and compete like we practice," Sato said. "So, when he gets on the ice to train, he's really simulating what it's like to be at a competition."
Abbott and his coaches also strategized on how to work with other members of the skater's team, including Britta Ottoboni, a strength and conditioning specialist and massage therapist who works out of DSC; Beau Sandoval, University of Michigan's assistant director of strength and conditioning for Olympic sports, who designs the skater's off-ice workouts; and Dr. Caroline Silby, a sports psychologist.
"We made everything a lot more detailed and made sure I was getting a lot more attention off ice to take care of my body," Abbott said. "We made sure everyone was working together and communicating, so it wasn't like I was the middle man, having to go out to all of the people and translate."
Ottoboni likened the team to circles in a Venn diagram, overlapping with the skater in the middle.
"Yuka is the point person; she figures out what Jeremy needs and kind of dictates through," Ottoboni said. "I can communicate with Yuka at any time, I can communicate with Beau, so Jeremy knows what he needs to know and doesn't get involved in the minutiae. He has a nutrition plan; that's been a big part of it, too. Instead of each little piece being its own separate island, we're all interconnected."
Ottoboni has worked with the USOC at three winter Olympics and served as athletic trainer for U.S. Figure Skating at Skate Canada this season. She traveled with Abbott to NHK Trophy in November and was at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, representing all skaters from DSC. She will be in Sochi for the men's individual event.
"I'm at the rink daily, and while we have regular appointments for massage, I can see him any time of the day," Ottoboni said. "If something doesn't feel right, I can evaluate and make adjustments if necessary. If we have to do some stretching or injury things, we do it right away and address it quickly. That's where we've made the biggest strides; he knows somebody is always right there for him, and it takes some of the stress away."
Abbott believes the plan has helped put him in position to make a medal run at Sochi.
"I'm looking for the podium," he said. "I think my skates in Boston were strong, and I think they could hold up internationally. That's where my sights have been all year, and that's where they've stayed. I think it's a possibility."
He and Sato are not planning to add a quad-triple to his free skate, which they choreographed to Muse's "Exogenesis" two seasons ago.
"Nothing is changing from Boston; the way we set up my programs is the way I'm going to keep them," Abbott said. "I don't get any more points for doing a triple toe on a quad than I get for doing one on an Axel in the long program. So, we set everything up in the manner that is best for me to complete my elements as well as I possibly can."
"He wanted to bring back this program, and we made minor adjustments to it, making sure he can breathe," Sato said. "He can be consistent in his elements, and that was our main priority."
Abbott admits he goes to Sochi as an underdog, but he's accustomed to the role.
"I don't have a great reputation for post-nationals, so I feel like that's kind of my burden to bear," he said. "The [level of] skating internationally has gone up immensely. I have to prove I can do it at more than just nationals."