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Abbott firmly believes best is yet to come

Skater making third Grand Prix Final appearance likes the momentum he's building

Jeremy Abbott once again finds himself among the world's best at the Grand Prix Final.
Jeremy Abbott once again finds himself among the world's best at the Grand Prix Final. (AFP)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(12/08/2011) - Jeremy Abbott is still striving for that perfect performance, but he's certain of one thing: He feels a lot better on the ice now than he did last season.

The two-time U.S. champion won his first Grand Prix event, Cup of China, and took bronze at his second, Moscow's Rostelecom Cup, to qualify for his third Grand Prix Final in four years. He won the event in 2008.

Promising results, but he is confident his best still lies ahead.

"Russia was a bit of high and low," Abbott said. "I was really, really pleased with my short program. It felt great to skate that way, after everything that happened last season, the equipment problems and not being able to train properly."

At the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Abbott lost his chance to compete at a fourth world championships when he fell on a triple Lutz in his free skate and placed fourth, failing to qualify for the three-man U.S. team. The skater assigned some of the blame for his difficult 2010-11 season to boot issues, saying at the time, "I could not get the blades mounted quite right, and they were never quite comfortable ... I lost a lot of training time."

That's all in the past.

"[The short at Rostelecom] was the first time I felt truly solid on the ice since the Olympic season," he said. "It was nice to feel I was back."

Abbott remembers his free skate in Moscow a bit less fondly.

"It was disappointing, to say the least," he said of the performance, which saw him fall on a quad toe loop and triple Axel. "I feel I have a great program. I want to perform it to its fullest potential, and I haven't done that yet, but there's still time.

"I'm on the right track. I spent the whole summer re-tooling my technique because it got messed up. The past week, I've been training great. I'm shifting my focus. I was doing my [run-throughs] for endurance, with less focus on preparing my mind for competitions. Now it has flipped; it's more going into details for competitions, so it's all more organized."

Despite his disappointment, Abbott earned the highest program components scores (83.44 points) at Rostelecom, which held him in third place behind Japan's Yuzuru Hanru and Spain's Javier Fernandez. He thinks those marks have been a long time coming.

"I've kind of been waiting for the day when my component scores would be that good," he said. "There have certainly been times when I felt the PCS I've been given were much, much lower than they could have been. It's exciting to see my work being recognized."

He gives much of the credit for his well-received programs -- a snappy Big Band short choreographed with swing dancer and second season So You Think You can Dance champion Benji Schwimmer, and a free skate to Muse's "Exogenesis: Symphony, Part 3" to his coach, Yuka Sato.

"I think I found two great programs," he said. "This season people especially recognize the difficulty of the [free] program.

"To be honest, I'm thrilled with the positive feedback because it could have been the other way around. Yuka and I thought, 'They will either love it or hate it,' but I knew it was special, and I was going to put it out there regardless. It's unique, and that's something I'm very proud of."

Heading into the U.S. championships last season, Abbott was wary of peaking too early, saying, "Three U.S. titles would be fantastic, but it's not my focus." This time around, he's determined to put out his very best at the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, Calif.

"My goal is still to peak at the end of the season, plus I want to do my best at every competition and get better and better," he said.

"I'm not going in saying, 'I'm going to hold back a little, so later I will be better.' I'm going to try to be aggressive and do my best each competition. I honestly feel I've been improving so far in the competitions I've done. Russia was better than China, and I'm on the path to making the Final even better. I see the path this season, and I'm really excited about it."

Takahashi, Chan are favored but it's anyone's game

2010 world champion Daisuke Takahashi notched the season's highest overall score, 259.75 points, in winning the NHK Trophy last month. If he hits his quad flip, which he has landed cleanly in practice but never in competition, he will be difficult to defeat here.

Skating in his home country will not hurt Patrick Chan's chances; although Canada's world champion has yet to perform a clean free skate this season, he plans two quad toes and a triple Axel in his "Concierto de Aranjuez" program and can count on high program components scores.

The fast-rising Fernandez nearly beat Chan at Skate Canada, winning the short program and landing two different quads, the toe and Salchow, in the free. Hanyu, the 2010 world junior champion, is making his mark on the senior circuit with a combination of lyricism and strong jumping. If Czech Michal Brezina regains his quads, he could also challenge for a medal.