Brilliant short puts Abbott halfway home

Lysacek second; Weir third

2010 U.S. men's champion Jeremy Abbott hangs out in the green room at <i>The Today Show</i>.
2010 U.S. men's champion Jeremy Abbott hangs out in the green room at The Today Show. (Lynn Rutherford)


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By Linda Przygodski, Lynn Rutherford, special to
(01/16/2010) - Jeremy Abbott proved Friday in Spokane that he's made of sterner stuff than a lot of people think.

The reigning U.S. champion's expressive, finely wrought program to Jeff Beck's rendition of The Beatles' classic, "A Day in the Life," propelled him into the top spot at the 2010 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships, some 4.16 points ahead of world champion Evan Lysacek. Three-time U.S. champion Johnny Weir sits third, just .18 behind Lysacek.

Abbott's well-paced program with highlighted by a speedy triple flip-triple toe combination, followed by a brilliant triple Axel that gained 9.91 points.

"I am very, very happy with that," said Abbott. "I've been training like that every day in practice. The added excitement of the audience just helped build the performance.

"I was so much more nervous here, than in my other competitions. I had to summon every ounce of power I had to get through the jumps. After my [triple] Lutz, I could relax and have fun with the program."

Abbott, who earned a personal-best score of 87.85, insisted Spokane was all about entertaining the crowd and gaining a spot on the three-man U.S. Olympic team.

"Last year I came in as the Grand Prix Champion and I was so confident I was going to win," he said. "This year I had a coaching change [to Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen in Detroit] and I felt I had to prove myself.

"It's not my goal to defend my title, my goal is to make the Olympic team and represent the U.S. in Vancouver. This year I was so nervous but I actually gave a better performance than last year."

Lysacek's costly misstep on an opening triple Axel in his short to Stravinsky's "Firebird" likely cost the world champion first place, but he, too, claimed other things were more important than regaining the title he won in 2007 and 2008.

"It's definitely not about winning," Lysacek said. "I hope this comes out right -- I don't need to prove myself over and over again. I made a lot of changes on my footwork and spins. I really do want to try some new stuff and see if that's the way to go."

Both Lysacek and his coach, Frank Carroll, said they would review the judges' details to find out how the changes fared.

"That was seven points below my personal best," he said. "The only mistake I know of was the step out. I think that's minus 1 or 2 [points]. Other than that I'll have to look at the judges' scores."

Actually, Lysacek lost nearly three points on his triple Axel.

Weir, performing to the Latin-infused "I Love You, I Hate You," opened his program a bit tentative, but after nailing his triple Lutz, triple toe and triple Axel, began to flirt with the crowd like someone with Vancouver on his mind.

"When you have an audience standing and screaming at your every move in a short program, to have that emotion coming at you from every corner of the building, makes it all the more amazing," Weir said.

"In a way, it was revenge for me to come back and be strong. I have so many fans around the world and I know they believe in me." Weir lost ground on his triple flip, which gained a few negative scores from the judges. He scored 83.51 points and remains firmly in the hunt for gold.

Last season, the 2008 world bronze medalist placed a dispirited fifth, off the podium and the U.S. world team.

"I'm in a completely different place mentally and physically," Weir said. "I really feel I can go to the Olympics and challenge the top skaters and bring home a medal to my country."

Adam Rippon had a strong start to his program but fizzled toward the end, two-footing his "candle" Lutz and slamming into the boards. A few seconds later he fell on some footwork.

Although Rippon's 72.91 points were good enough for fourth place, he trials the leaders by more than 10 points going in to Sunday's free skate.

Armin Mahbanoozadeh rounded out the top five, earning 72.56 for a clean short.