Ice Network

Abbott pays tribute to late father at Greensboro gala

Four-time U.S. champion mum on his skating future after missing worlds
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Jeremy Abbott did not specify whether he plans to compete during the 2015-16 season after finishing fifth at the 2015 U.S. Championships. -Jay Adeff

Jeremy Abbott added another memorable performance to his legacy at the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

This time, the four-time U.S. champion offered an unforgettable exhibition in Sunday night's gala.

Performing to John Coltrane's spiritual jazz ballad "Dear Lord," accompanied by the University of North Carolina School of the Arts saxophone ensemble, Abbott showed the Greensboro crowd pure skating, fueled by raw emotion.

The program was a goodbye to his father, Danny, and perhaps to his U.S. championships career. 

"I never felt like that on the ice before," Abbott, 29, said. "I felt so at home. I always feel at home on the ice, but it was crazy. I felt every edge and every movement, and I felt so in control of absolutely everything I was doing.

"And when I finished, I looked up to the heavens and lost it. I lost it. So I just started sobbing at center ice."

The exhibition was more than a month in the making. U.S. Figure Skating contacted Abbott to ask if he would collaborate with the saxophone ensemble and skate to live music. Always anxious to explore new performance options, Abbott leapt at the chance.

"We've been working since August on this repertoire, which was arranged by another great saxophonist, David Liebman," Taimur Sullivan, director of the ensemble, said. "We sent Jeremy a number of different pieces we could play: some cabaret music, some tango, some classical music and 'Dear Lord.' He really fell in love with the meditative, spiritual quality of the piece."

At the time, Abbott was in Colorado Springs, spending the holidays with his family and training at the World Arena. After settling on the music, he put the exhibition aside to focus on training for the U.S. championships.

When Danny Abbott died on Jan. 8, Jeremy returned to Colorado, accompanied by his coach, Yuka Sato. They decided to make "Dear Lord" a tribute to Danny.

"We choreographed it as the five stages of grief: It was denial, anger, bargaining, depression and then, finally, acceptance," Abbott said. "It was really cathartic. It was kind of hard at times to put together, but I really enjoyed the time in Colorado to work with Yuka."

Danny Abbott died at the age of 73 after a long fight with Parkinson's disease. His obituary notes he got one tattoo in his life: an image of the Olympic rings, in recognition of his two-time Olympian son's accomplishments.

After the program, Abbott ran to his sister, Gwen Abbott Asmussen, a former nationally ranked downhill skier and X-Games competitor.

"I tried really hard to keep it together, and my sister asked if I wanted a hug, so I ran upstairs and gave her a big hug and collapsed in her arms," Abbott said. "I think it was the emotion of being able to give my father a tribute, and to feel that way when I skated. With everything that happened, and then this week, finally, it all crumbled."

Abbott had dreamed of taking another shot at an elusive world medal at the 2015 World Figure Skating Championships, but it was not to be. He skated well, but others did too, and Abbott ended up fifth, his lowest finish ever at the U.S. senior level.

"I felt the strongest I ever felt," Abbott said. "I know I had three mistakes in my long program, but everything that happened was right on. I really could feel it and was so focused, and I was really proud of my effort."

Long thought of as a skater who peaks at the U.S. championships, Abbott said he has often been told to save some of his brilliance for the world championships, where his best finish was fifth in 2010 and 2014.

"But as we all know, you have to peak at nationals, in order to make the world team," he said, ruefully. "So I knew it wasn't going to be enough. I'm disappointed to not be able to continue my season. But it was a special moment for me in both the short and the long."

At the 2014 U.S. Championships, Abbott announced his 2013-14 campaign would be his last. He reconsidered after his fifth-place finish at the world championships. This time around, he is not making any announcements just yet.

He is sure of one thing: He doesn't regret his decision to compete this season.

"I am very, very glad I did it," he said. "We made a lot of [biomechanical] changes in the fall and summer and I feel I'm a much better skater for it. Physically I feel much better; my back and hip pain has been very minimal, if at all. So all of these changes we've made have made me a stronger athlete overall.

"When I retire, I want to continue performing, because that's what I love doing. These changes are definitely going to elongate my career, so that's good."