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Czisny, Abbott seek worlds tune-up in The Hague

Challenge Cup gives Czisny chance to return to old ways; Abbott to test quad

Alissa Czisny, who was held out of Four Continents, hopes to regain top form in The Hague.
Alissa Czisny, who was held out of Four Continents, hopes to regain top form in The Hague. (Tom Briglia)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(03/07/2012) - Jeremy Abbott and Alissa Czisny arrive in The Hague, Netherlands, this week for the International Challenge Cup with specific goals in mind.

Czisny wants to forget her shaky free skate at the 2012 U.S. Championships in San Jose and lay down solid programs before the 2012 World Championships, to be held in Nice, France, from March 26-April 1. For Abbott, it's a chance to compete with a quadruple toe loop in his short program for the first time this season.

Never before have two such prominent U.S. competitors been entered in this "senior B" event, which was cancelled last season due to lack of entrants. But for the two Detroit-based skaters, the timing couldn't be better.

"This will be a nice warmup for worlds," said Czisny, the two-time U.S. champion who placed second to Ashley Wagner at the U.S. championships in January.

While the skater and her coach, Jason Dungjen, made no secret of their desire to compete at the 2012 Four Continents Championships last month, Czisny was passed over for the team. Now, it's a case of making lemonade out of lemons.

"Although I'm disappointed I wasn't selected for Four Continents, I believe in the end [competing at The Hague] is better," Czisny said. "I can take what happened and complain about it or I can take what I have and use it."

Czisny suffered an ill-timed foot and calf injury at the Grand Prix Final and placed fifth there after disappointing programs. Although her physical symptoms had largely healed by the U.S. championships, she wasn't at her best.

"Things are going well now," she said. "The foot is much better, and I was happy to have the extra time to train. I'm back to 100 percent.

"At nationals, I think I was still affected a little bit, not that I was injured, but I was conscious of it. I think my confidence was not where I wanted it to be; I trained as hard as I could, but I was not where I wanted to be. There was nothing I could do but go out and try my best."

Challenge Cup may be a warmup, but Czisny faces formidable competition in Carolina Kostner, the three-time world medalist who won her fourth European title in January. The willowy Italian, who like Czisny stresses grace and artistry as well as triple jumps, is enjoying the finest season of her career, having notched her first-ever Grand Prix Final win in December.

"It will be good having her there," said Czisny, who edged Kostner by 0.13 points to win Skate America early this season.

The skater and her coaches, Dungjen and Yuka Sato, haven't made any big additions to her programs -- a short to "La Vie en Rose" and free skate to Sibelius' "Valse Triste" -- since the U.S. championships, but her free will look a bit different.

"We rearranged things a little bit in my long [program]; we changed the order of a few of the jumps, so that they're more comfortable," Czisny said. "A few weren't working as well as they could have, and sometimes you switch [them] around and they work easier. Other than that, everything should be the same as it was at nationals."

Dungjen will accompany Czisny and Abbott, plus Italian Valentina Marchei, to The Hague. Sato remains in Detroit to work with U.S. silver medalist Adam Rippon and other students. The Detroit team departs for Europe on Tuesday and will return following the competition on March 12.

Czisny isn't concerned about jet lag.

"It's only Europe, it's not that bad," she said. "I was in The Hague for the Junior Grand Prix Final a few years ago, or actually 10 years ago. It's a great place to visit."

Abbott, who won his third U.S. title in commanding fashion in San Jose, was named to the Four Continents' team but withdrew when a chronically sore hip acted up.

"It's kind of been a nuisance all season, but it's been totally manageable. Nothing out of the ordinary," Abbott said.

"After nationals, there was no chance to rest and recover and still train for Four Continents. It was exhausting, and it just exacerbated [the soreness] that was already there. My body was not happy. The hip was worse, and so we thought it would be best to take some time off and rest."

Abbott is back to form now and looking forward to the Challenge Cup.

"It feels like nationals was a long time ago. It will be nice to get another competition under me before Nice," he said.

The U.S. champion is set to square off against a surprisingly strong men's field, including Frenchman Florent Amodio, who won bronze at the 2012 European Championships in January; six-time world medalist Brian Joubert of France, trying to recapture his form after an eighth-place finish at Europeans; and Italian champion Samuel Contesti, a former European silver medalist. But to Abbott, who he skates against doesn't matter.

"I'm really just using this as a warmup for worlds," he said. "I'm not worried about my placement or points or becoming the Challenge Cup champion or anything. I'm not going to be crushed if I lose.

"The one thing I'm concerned about is putting the quad in the short, and this is just another chance to do it in competition."

Abbott performed a quad toe-triple toe combination in an exhibition of his short at the Detroit Skating Club (DSC) show prior to the 2012 U.S. Championships and hopes to duplicate that feat in Nice. Like Czisny, he's not concerned with the turn-around time or jet lag.

"There is time after we get back; there's an extra two weeks until worlds. Plenty of time to adjust," he said. "I've had to do worse, that's for sure. The first week [back] will be tough; the second week will be normal."

Challenge Cup notes: Leah Keiser, the 14-year-old Californian who placed 12th in senior ladies at the 2012 U.S. Championships, will make her junior international debut at the Challenge Cup, accompanied by Christa Fassi ... Junior pair Jessica Pfund and AJ Reiss are also set to make an international debut at The Hague. Coached by Peter Oppegard at Artesia's East West Ice Palace, the duo placed fifth in juniors in San Jose ... Valuable ISU world ranking points will be up for grabs at the senior event. Winners will receive 250 points, silver medalists 225 points, on down to 164 points for fifth place.