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Relaxed Abbott enters worlds with new confidence

U.S. champion hasn't decided yet whether or not he'll try the quad in L.A.

Jeremy Abbott says moving his training base to Michigan was the right decision.
Jeremy Abbott says moving his training base to Michigan was the right decision. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(03/17/2009) - When Jeremy Abbott traveled to the world championships in Gothenburg, Sweden, a year ago, it was as a last-minute replacement for the injured Evan Lysacek.

This time around, when he arrives at the 2009 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Los Angeles, it'll be as the reigning Grand Prix Final and U.S. champion.

"My season so far this year has been incredible; I couldn't have asked for more, nor did I expect what happened," the 23-year-old said on a media teleconference last week.

"To say I'm pleased is quite a bit of an understatement. It's a great feeling going to worlds this year and actually qualifying [for the team]."

The Colorado Springs, Colo.-based skater, who called his win at the Grand Prix Final last December "a complete surprise," felt the pressure at the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships, where he had to fight through his free skate after a superb short program. But he expects worlds to be less stressful.

"Going into worlds I feel a lot more relaxed and comfortable than I did at nationals. At nationals, I felt like I was really expected to win, and that put a lot of pressure on me. I was a little bit uncomfortable, and I didn't enjoy it.

"At worlds, I don't feel I'm expected to win, but I do feel good being one of the men in contention for that [top] spot."

The prospect of earning three U.S. men's slots for the 2010 Olympics doesn't trouble the skater, who is confident he, along with fellow U.S. World Team members Lysacek and Brandon Mroz, will place high enough to do the job.

"I think there is pressure to get three spots, but our men's team this year is incredibly strong and we will easily achieve that goal," he said. "It won't be like last year, when Stephen [Carriere] and I were not as well known and new to [worlds]. Getting three spots this season should not be as difficult as last season."

Abbott's coach, Tom Zakrajsek, who also trains U.S. world competitors Mroz and Rachael Flatt, among many other top skaters, said his skater has all the technical and artistic ability he needs to be a world champion but still lacks a bit of international exposure and experience.

"If I could add anything, more confidence is the first thing that comes to mind," Zakrajsek said. "Jeremy is kind of a late bloomer; he's one day younger than Evan Lysacek, but if you look at the breadth of experience Evan has had, you can't even compare the two.

"When Jeremy won U.S. juniors [in 2005], he was 21 days too old for the Junior Grand Prix. He never went to junior worlds. He hasn't had that big junior career to build on."

Abbott, like Flatt, cites his World Arena training base as one of his biggest inspirations.

"I love training with Ryan [Bradley] and Brandon and Rachael and Lexie [Gilles]," he said. "We push each other very hard, and yet we remain very good friends. It's very motivating, not distracting at all. I get enough of [Zakrajsek's] time and attention, certainly.

"My coach really has brought an amazing team to work with me. We brought in Paul Wylie to mentor me; I work with great choreographers, Tom Dickson and Catarina Lindgren; and Becky Calvin is my secondary coach, who works closely with [Zakrajsek]. Just great people."

Wylie, the 1992 Olympic silver medalist, came to Abbott through U.S. Figure Skating's mentor program. He traveled to Colorado Springs twice this season to work with the skater, and Abbott speaks with him weekly.

"We kind of discuss how training has been going, how I'm feeling about things, and talk about where I am mentally," the skater said. "He's helped me a lot from his point of view because he's been through situations where he had such potential, and he never really delivered until his last season."

Wylie, often considered his generation's finest on-ice stylist, won five silver and bronze medals at the U.S. Championships but was never able to gain big international success until his final competition in Albertville, France, in 1992.

"Just the way Paul says things strikes a chord with me, and I'm able to use it to my advantage," Abbott explained. "The way he says things really sticks with me.

"The two times he was out here, he was on the ice with me, and I worked with him for all my sessions. He worked a little bit on technique and presentation, but it was more mental preparation and how to go about daily training."

At the 2009 Four Continents Championships late last month, Abbott fell on a triple Lutz in his short then popped an intended quad toe loop into a double in his free skate. He placed fifth overall, well behind Canadian champion Patrick Chan and two-time world bronze medalist Lysacek, among others. Still, he found positives in the less-than-stellar outing.

"Four Continents was a lot more difficult than I had expected it to be," he said. "[After the U.S. Championships], I was home for three or four days before having to leave for Vancouver, and while in Vancouver, I got fairly sick.

"I'm not at all pleased with my performance, but all things considered, I felt proud I could keep my focus well enough to accomplish what I did. I had a total of three jump [mistakes], and in past bad competitions, it would be three jump mistakes in a short. So to be able to do what I did, feeling as horrible as I did, gave me a big boost of confidence."

Abbott has had an on-again, off-again commitment to trying the quadruple toe loop in competition. Last season, he and Zakrajsek put the jump in nearly all of his programs, and he landed it at the 2008 World Championships. This season, he's had his best results without the risky jump.

On his teleconference, Abbott good-naturedly dodged questions on whether the four-revolution maneuver would be included in his programs in L.A.

"We're still working on the quad; as far as strategy for the competition, it's kind of a secret," he laughed. "It's going well. I guess you'll have to be surprised.

"It's been a very interesting season, and it doesn't seem like the quad had been as necessary this season as in past years, but that doesn't mean it won't be necessary to win [worlds]. There are certainly many men that can do it, and if they do, they'll probably win."

According to Zakrajsek, including the jump is a decision that will be made after practice sessions in Los Angeles.

"The quad is still in his training; it's never out," the coach said. "He still does the quad Salchow [in training], too. He's capable of doing both."

Mroz ready for worlds' debut

Brandon Mroz' silver medal at the U.S. championships this January surprised many, but not Zakrajsek.

"I think, if you'd watched Brandon all season, it was clear what he was capable of," the coach said of his 18-year-old pupil, who gained the highest technical scores in the event's free skate.

Mroz' eighth-place finish at Four Continents doesn't dampen his coach's enthusiasm in the least.

"The nice thing about Four Continents is Brandon did a short that was scored higher than at nationals, by international judges," Zakrajsek said. "He did nice longs in practice sessions, but by the end of the week he was coughing a lot, developing a cold. He learned from that, about pushing through. He also learned you always have to bring your "A" game against the top men in the world."

Mroz, who is known as a strong jumper, plans to include the quad toe in his free skate at worlds and may even use it in his short program.

"We're not sure about the quad-triple [combination] for this worlds, but I think it will be in his short program next year," Zakrajsek said. "He has done it in run-throughs, and it's really getting there."