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Abbott steps up big with stunning GP win

Hopes record Cup of China score paves the way for more success

Jeremy Abbott set three new career-high scores at the Cup of China in Beijing.
Jeremy Abbott set three new career-high scores at the Cup of China in Beijing. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(11/13/2008) - Since winning the U.S. junior title in 2005, Jeremy Abbott has been looking for his big international breakthrough. Now, with a stunning win at the Samsung Anycall Cup of China last week, he's got it.

"I wouldn't say I'm a late bloomer," the 23-year-old protested. "I just sort of do things at my own pace, I guess."

Abbott, a native of Aspen, Colo., who trains in Colorado Springs, never made a mark on the Junior Grand Prix circuit. He has only been to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships as a senior twice, placing fourth in 2007 and 2008. Although he gained a bronze medal at the 2007 Four Continents Championships, his 233.44-point total in Beijing -- the highest international score ever recorded by a U.S. skater - shot him to heights usually reserved for Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek.

It's quite a turnaround. Last season, his first on the Grand Prix circuit, Abbott had disappointing performances.

"I skated poorly," he admitted of his eighth- and fourth-place finishes at Skate Canada and the NHK Trophy, respectively. "But I always say I learn a lot more from my failures than I did from my successes."

The skater's pewter medal at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships also rankled him a bit, at least until he got the call to replace an injured Lysacek at the 2008 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden. He placed 11th there, landing a quad toe loop in both of his programs.

"I'm glad I got the quad done, but there were other things I could have done a lot better, like my triple Axels," Abbott said. "I'm going to have to be a lot more consistent if I want to stand on the podium at worlds or Olympics."

Consistency was not a strong point for Abbott earlier in his career. In 2005, he placed fifth at the Midwestern sectionals, failing to qualify for the U.S. championships even though he was the U.S. junior titleholder.

"My whole [2005-2006] season was pretty terrible," he recalled. "No excuses. I just didn't work hard enough."

A comprehensive training and competition plan, worked out with coaches Tom Zakrajsek and Becky Calvin, improved his results. This season, others have joined his corner: 1992 Olympic silver medalist Paul Wylie has traveled to Colorado Springs to mentor Abbott, and New York-based designer Tania Bass has become a sponsor, designing his competitive costumes.

We caught up with Abbott in Paris, where he is training to prepare for his next event, the Cup of Russia, held next week.

icenetwork.com: Your win at Cup of China -- has it sunken in yet?
Jeremy Abbott: It's very exciting! I feel that it sets me up well for the rest of the season. I have to credit my coaches [Zakrajsek and Calvin], as well as my choreographers [Tom Dickson and Catarina Lundgren]. I definitely couldn't have done it without them. Changes get made to my spins and step sequences throughout the entire season as needed; we are always trying to make everything the highest level and best quality that it can be. That's definitely a big reason I was able to score so well.

IN: You led after the short and were in a good position to win your first big international event. How did you control your emotions and skate so well in the free?
JA: I have to thank Becky Calvin for that. I did get pretty nervous, and she just told me to stick to what I know -- that nothing changes. She reminded me how hard I had worked at home in order to create this exact moment. I also thought a lot, the entire week, about the time that I had gotten to spend with Paul Wylie. He has really been an excellent mentor to me and has given me a different perspective on the way I approach my skating and my training.

IN: You left the quad toe loop out of your programs. What was the strategy?
JA: Tom [Zakrajsek] and I decided to take it out for the time being. I have a lot of strengths, but consistency hasn't always been my biggest one. So, we decided take the quad out and focus on delivering the complete package -- two amazingly choreographed programs performed with solid technical elements.

IN: You've said you are enjoying your programs [a short to Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni's "Adagio" and free to Piazzolla's "Eight Seasons" Tango] more than ever before.
JA: Tom and Catarina came to me with the music and told me what they wanted me to portray. I loved their ideas and immediately meshed with the music. When they started to give me the movements, it was like I could feel the music coursing through my body, and I knew that these programs were going to be great. I love my programs. They are so much fun to perform, and I think it shows when I skate them.

IN: You're a bit unique in that you didn't have a big junior career, and you appear to be gearing up your career now, at age 23. Do you find you have more focus as you're getting older?
JA: I am so happy with the way things have worked out. I take it one experience at a time. Good or bad, I always learn something valuable that I can take with me to the next event to better myself. I do think it has something to do with maturity; I don't know that I would have been able to learn all the same lessons to get me where I am now when I was younger.

IN: You and Ryan Bradley, who won the silver medal at Skate Canada, take from the same coaches. How have both of you managed to start off so strong this season?
JA: We do the summer events in order to work out the kinks before the season really begins. They are usually a little rough and not so pretty, but that's what they are there for. Also, I love training in Colorado Springs. We have so many great skaters in all the disciplines. We all push each other to work harder and improve. I love training with Ryan because we are so competitive with each other, but at the same time we can remain friends. It's great to have that constant reminder that there is someone else out there who's working as hard as you are or even harder.

IN: Several years ago you established a fund with your home figure skating club in Aspen. How is that going?
JA: Ultimately, I just wanted some way to give back to the sport that has given me so much, and I wanted to do it in the wonderful community that helped give me my start. I do the Aspen Skating Clubs' annual spring show every year, and we do a silent auction to help raise money for the fund. It's really very small right now, but I know the community has really gotten involved and donated money to it. I am hoping one day it can become something much bigger, but for now I know that every little bit helps.