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Abbott edges Lysacek in short at U.S. Champs

Five year Lysacek-Weir stranglehold on U.S. title may be near end

Jeremy Abbott earned more points for his short program -- 86.40 -- than anyone ever had before at the U.S. Championships.
Jeremy Abbott earned more points for his short program -- 86.40 -- than anyone ever had before at the U.S. Championships. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/24/2009) - Jeremy Abbott has crashed the long-running Evan Lysacek-Johnny Weir party.

The skater from Colorado Springs delivered a near-perfect short program that earned 86.40 points, the highest total ever awarded for a short program at the U.S. Championships and some 8.14 points more than his international personal best.

"I felt nervous going out there," Abbott, 23, said. "Coming in here as the Grand Prix champion, I felt I put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect."

Abbott's performance, to Albinoni's "Adagio," was as close to perfect as it gets. His lyrical yet intricate program opened with a superb triple flip-triple toe loop combination and gained strength from there.

"I feel like nationals has been a lot about Evan and Johnny for a long time," he said. "I felt I could break through. I've worked hard this season, and it's given me a lot of confidence."

Abbott had a breakout fall, winning the Cup of China and the ISU Grand Prix Final, something neither Lysacek nor Weir has done. He came to Cleveland as one of the favorites for the first time, a role that didn't suit him well at first.

"There's been a lot of external pressure, and I let it get to me a bit," he said. "I got back to myself and my training and started to get a lot better after that."

Tom Zakrajsek, who coaches Abbott at Colorado Springs' World Arena, looked stunned when his skater's marks came up.

"To get 46.79 points -- almost 47 points -- is really a great technical [element] score for a short program," he said. "Obviously, Evan is a great champion. He's been on the world podium twice, and he's won [the U.S. title] two times. Evan knows how to win, and Jeremy out-skated him when [Evan] skated well."

While Abbott took top honors, Lysacek wasn't far behind. The two-time defending champion kicked off the evening with an electric program to Ravel's Bolero that built excitement in its second half.

Lysacek scored higher levels for his spins and step sequences than Abbott, but his opening triple Axel gained fewer points and his program components were slightly lower. He stands in second with 83.59 points, just 2.81 off the lead.

"I think it went well," the 23-year-old said. "I said last year defending this title is the most difficult thing I go through [during] the season.

"To see such strong levels is really encouraging. I know it will hold up on the international level."

The Los Angeles-based skater said he didn't focus much on Abbott's ascension to the elite ranks.

"I sort of mind my own business as far as skating and my life in general goes," he said. "I'm making important technical and artistic improvements [in my programs]. ... This is only my third event of the season, and I'm looking toward the world championships to peak."

Former U.S. novice and junior champion Parker Pennington, whose highest finish at the U.S. Championships was sixth place in 2003, is in a surprising third place after a 76.17-point short program.

The skater, who trained in the Cleveland area under 1960 Olympic champion Carol Heiss Jenkins for 10 years, returned to her this season after leaving in 2003 to work with other coaches.

"This experience was absolutely incredible -- to be able to go out in front of my home crowd and deliver one of my best performances was surreal," said the 24-year-old Pennington, who brought the crowd to its feet with his clean performance.

"I worked really hard to get to this point, and I owe a lot of credit to my coaches. I wouldn't be sitting here today if it weren't for them."

Weir, the reigning world bronze medalist, saw his hopes for a fourth U.S. title dashed when he popped a triple Axel into a single, gaining just 0.30 points for the element. He placed seventh with 70.76 points, more than 15 points off the lead.

"The mistake I made on the triple Axel is a mistake I haven't made in quite some time," he said. "This is the first time I haven't done a clean short at nationals since 2001."

Though clearly disappointed, the skater said he looked forward to redeeming himself in the free program Sunday afternoon.

"I'm down far enough now that I have nothing to lose," he said. "I'm trained as well as I can be for the moment.

"Right now, I'm very disappointed with myself. I can't wait to get back to the hotel and cry in the shower for an hour."

Lysacek, asked whether it felt strange not to have Weir at the post-event press conference, replied, "I think we all feel for him tonight. I didn't see him skate, but I saw his scores, and I think he had a rough performance. I hope he gets a good night's sleep."

Two other skaters from Zakrajsek's stable, Brandon Mroz and Ryan Bradley, are fourth and fifth, respectively.

Mroz, just 18, had a clean outing to music from Richard Strauss marked by strong jumps and solid spins. He takes 74.88 points into the long program.

"It's my first time out [at the U.S. Championships] in seniors, and I had a few doubts, but I've trained this program hard throughout the season," he said.

"Doing the Senior Grand Prix [this fall] and coming in here with a great team of coaches really helped. I knew it was my moment to shine."

Bradley, the 2007 U.S. silver medalist, missed a golden opportunity to place in the top three when he doubled an intended triple Lutz after landing a strong quad-triple combination and a triple Axel. His short earned 74.05 points.

"Stupid, stupid, stupid," Bradley, 25, said. "I did all of my hard stuff. I just learned my triple Lutz 12 years ago, so I haven't gotten it under my belt yet. It cost me big time, but that's all right. I've got a big long program coming up."