Abbott enters Nice 'worlds away' from last year

After shaky 2010-11 campaign, U.S. champion thriving again

Jeremy Abbott is far removed from his struggles at the 2011 U.S. Championships.
Jeremy Abbott is far removed from his struggles at the 2011 U.S. Championships. (Getty Images)


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By Amy Rosewater, special to
(03/20/2012) - Usually at this time of year, Jeremy Abbott is ready to get out of town.

"I'm so exhausted and worn down mentally and physically that all I'm thinking about is vacation," he said. "I'm planning my vacation and that's my main focus. It sounds silly, because you should be focusing on worlds."

This year, he's in luck.

His skating booked his reservations for him. And the south of France is a pretty nice place to go anytime, but for Abbott, it's an especially nice place to go now.

Abbott, who captured his third national title at the U.S. championships in January, is heading to Nice, France, to compete in the 2012 World Championships (March 26-April 1). He had competed at worlds in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and fully expected to make another trip to worlds last year. Instead, he had a disappointing showing at nationals and placed fourth, precluding him from being selected for the world team.

Abbott admitted he still has not seen any footage of the men's competition from the 2011 World Championships in Moscow, and the only bits of the broadcast he has seen is from skating's other disciplines -- ladies, pairs and ice dancing. He caught those after the fact on YouTube.

To say that Abbott had a rough go last season is akin to saying the U.S. economy has struggled lately. He had so many issues with boots that he said he went through eight pairs of skates last season. The problem dated back to the offseason when he went to Champs Camp, and he never could rectify the situation. He began using an old pair, one he had worn through 40-plus Stars on Ice shows, and eventually those wore down, too. After nationals and Four Continents, where he placed third, he received another pair, and he said the new boots were an improvement.

But the damage had been done. He had broken boots and broken spirits.

Over the summer, he started wearing Jackson boots. He used the extra time he had from not being at worlds to work on new programs. He squared away costume and equipment issues and was able to get a jump on this season.

The 2010-11 season was history, and he was out to make history in 2011-12.

He placed first and third in his two Grand Prix events and fifth at the Grand Prix Final, but at nationals, it was obvious the transformed Abbott had arrived. He opened the U.S. championships in San Jose, Calif., with the playful swing number for his short program that revealed a softer side to his skating. A program he had performed in his Grand Prix events, he genuinely seemed to enjoy performing the number, stretching his suspenders a bit and smiling and even getting the crowd involved toward the end. He punctuated the performance with a fist pump.

The judges rewarded him 90.23 points, his personal best. Adam Rippon, who trains with Abbott (and coaches Jason Dungjen and Yuka Sato) in Detroit, was second with 82.94 points.

He was much more subdued in the free skate, wearing all black and performing to "Exogenesis Symphony." The last skater in the men's event, Abbott nailed his opening quadruple toe loop and skated cleanly with few minor exceptions. He finished with 273.58 points and breathed a sigh of relief in the kiss and cry when it was over.

With the hard part over -- he achieved his goal of returning to the world team -- he now knows there is more hard work to come. Even if he will be in Nice, his real vacation plans will have to be put on hold. He hopes to add a quad toe loop to the short program at worlds, although he said it will be a game-time decision.

And he is looking forward to skating against the best in the world, notably Canada's reigning world champion, Patrick Chan.

At nationals, Abbott told reporters he felt he stacked up pretty evenly against Chan. Although Abbott admitted that Chan has moved his way to the top of the skating world order, Abbott said at Tuesday's teleconference, "If I put down two of my best programs and he puts down two of his best programs, I think we're at the same level."

To date, Chan has recorded the top total score since the ISU adopted its current scoring system when he tallied a whopping 280.98 points at the 2011 World Championships. It's a total that is more than 16 points higher than that of his closest challenger, Japan's Daisuke Takahashi.

So Abbott is making a bold statement by comparing himself to Chan.

Then again, Abbott is not the same skater he was in the past.

"I'm feeling right on track for worlds," said Abbott, who is coming off a silver-medal finish at the International Challenge Cup, a tune-up event for worlds in The Hague, Netherlands. "My training's right where I want it to be."

Although Abbott is focused on his personal goals at worlds, there will be some pressure for him to help the United States earn a third spot at the 2013 World Championships, which is a key competition since it will be the year before the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi in 2014. The sum of the placements for Abbott and Rippon must be 13 or less for the United States to earn that third spot. The 2011 U.S. team of Richard Dornbush (ninth), Ross Miner (11th) and Ryan Bradley (13th) lost a spot.

In three previous trips to worlds, Abbott has placed 11th twice (2008, 2009) and fifth in 2010. Rippon, meanwhile, a two-time world junior champion, placed sixth in his only trip to worlds at the senior level, in 2010.

"We have so much depth ... and the more people we send, the more we can show our depth and how strong our country is in men's skating," Abbott said. "If we have three spots, then we have a better chance to get three spots again for the Olympic season, which is what everybody wants.

"But I have to say that I'm not focusing on it, personally. I'm focusing on my goals and on what I need to accomplish. I can't speak for Adam, but I'm pretty sure he's doing the same. And I know if we both achieve what we're setting out to do in Nice, then it shouldn't be a problem and we should have three spots."

Heading into Nice, it's clear that Abbott is worlds away from the skater he was a year ago. His confidence, and his skating, has returned.

"Oh, I feel completely different," Abbott said. "I feel great, actually ... I still feel really fresh. I still have plenty of fight in me."

And as for those vacation plans, well, he can plan for those after his business trip to the French Riviera.