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Jeremy Abbott joins forces with Yuka Sato

U.S. champion leaves Colorado Springs for DSC

U.S. national champion Jeremy Abbott is among the top men competing at Skate Canada.
U.S. national champion Jeremy Abbott is among the top men competing at Skate Canada. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(05/22/2009) - U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott is ending his long-time professional relationship with Tom Zakrajsek at the World Arena in Colorado Springs and moving to the Detroit Skating Club, where he will be coached by Yuka Sato.

"I want to try a new situation and new environment," Abbott said. "I've really thought through this decision. It's not spur-of-the-moment or emotional. After the success I had this year, I thought about what type of training I needed, and [decided] I needed to make a change.

"I've done great work in Colorado Springs, and Tom is an amazing coach. We've been together for 10 years, and I've enjoyed that time. Yes, [the move] is upsetting, but I need to do it for me."

Abbott, who placed 11th at the 2009 ISU World Figure Skating Championships, competed as part of the winning U.S. team at the first annual ISU World Team Trophy in Japan last month then traveled to Korea to perform in Yu-Na Kim's Festa on Ice. After those shows, he took a brief European vacation to mull over his options.

"I met Yuka in Korea and talked with her a lot, just as a person, not as a potential coach," said Abbott, who will turn 24 on June 5. "When I got home from vacation and made my decision [to leave Colorado Springs], she was one of the first people I thought of.

"Last week, I went down to DSC, and we kind of tried things out. It just really worked out between us, and I think it will be a good situation for me."

Sato, a two-time Japanese champion who won the world title in 1994, has enjoyed an exceptionally long and successful professional career, performing for many seasons in Stars on Ice and other shows throughout the world. The daughter of two prominent coaches, Nobuo and Yumiko, she is often called "a skater's skater" for her speed, deep edges and fine carriage.

"I've seen her [skate] in person. I've also watched some stuff on YouTube, [including] her world championship [free] program," Abbott said. "She is a phenomenal skater. She has the whole package, and that's part of why I wanted to go to her. Also, as a world champion, she knows the work and discipline it takes to succeed."

Sato is also a choreographer and created programs for Takahiko Kozuka, the 2008 Skate America champion who placed sixth at 2009 Worlds, including his much-heralded short program to Dave Brubeck's "Take Five." But Abbott, who has worked with Tom Dickson for years, said he will stick with the Colorado Springs-based choreographer.

"I still plan on having Tom [Dickson] do my long, and Yuka and I are exploring other options for the short program," he said. "Yuka is my primary coach; she won't be doing my choreography."

Zakrajsek coached Abbott from the pre-juvenile level up. Under his tutelage, the skater won the 2005 U.S. junior title and in three appearances in the senior men's event at the U.S. Championships, he placed fourth twice before winning the title in Cleveland in January. Abbott also enjoyed international success last season, winning the Cup of China and taking gold at the Grand Prix Final with the then-highest score ever recorded by an American man.

Despite all his success, Abbott has admitted he sometimes lacks the confidence needed to produce clean programs in pressure situations. With a trip to the 2010 Olympics on the line, that confidence will now be tested anew.

"For this coming season I want to continue to improve my confidence and consistency, so I can get to the Olympics -- not only get there, but medal," he said.

"I never want to get on the ice with any big doubts. Obviously, there is always a little doubt, but [I don't want] any fear of success or failure. I want to go out and deliver clean performances."

The skater was not the only top male competitor in Zakrajsek's group. The coach also trains 2007 U.S. silver medalist Ryan Bradley, as well as fast-rising Brandon Mroz, 18, who won the U.S. silver medal in Cleveland and placed two spots higher than Abbott at worlds. Zakrajsek also coaches a number of top U.S. ladies, including two-time U.S. silver medalist Rachael Flatt and 2008 U.S. junior champ Alexe Gilles.

In Sato, Abbott has a coach who can devote herself to him almost exclusively. Sato's husband, two-time U.S. pair champion Jason Dungjen, will also be on the coaching team.

"There are lots of different reasons for the move," Abbott said. "[Wanting to be] the only top skater was part of it, a small part of it. I loved training with Brandon and Ryan and Rachael and Alexe. They are all incredibly hard workers and good friends, but I am excited to be in a situation where Yuka doesn't have many other students."

Abbott also looks forward to entering a new coaching relationship as an adult.

"I think I can easily talk to Yuka -- bring up questions, concerns and issues, and work through them," he said. "I had tons of questions when I went out there, and she took the time and explained things.

"I'm really excited by this. I'm looking for an apartment. It will be the first time I've ever lived on my own. It's a chance to really grow up and take full responsibility for not only my skating but everything else in my life."

Abbott said that Sato, who is still in demand as a show skater and Japanese television commentator, would be with him at DSC for the vast bulk of the season.

"Yuka is really only scheduled to go back to Japan twice -- once for a show, and the other time for NHK Trophy, which is one of the [Grand Prix] events I asked for," he explained. "It's possible I might also go to Japan on both those trips. If not, I can work with Jason [at DSC] or work with Tom [Dickson] on my program."