Abbott credits growth, maturity for improvement

Three-time U.S. champ says he does what he believes in, not what judges want

Jeremy Abbott's swing-inspired short program has helped bring out the performer in him.
Jeremy Abbott's swing-inspired short program has helped bring out the performer in him. (Tom Briglia)


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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to
(03/30/2012) - "Jeremy [Abbott] made a tremendous leap forward this season," his coach, Jason Dungjen, told Thursday.

We went to find Abbott this morning, at the end of his last practice session before the short program. He kindly agreed to share his views on how he has developed as a performer and as a skater throughout this season. When we saw you at your last worlds, back in 2010, in Torino, you looked like a great technician and athlete more than an artist. How did you manage to become also a true performer?

Abbott: I've just been growing more on the ice and with my confidence. You know, I've always felt [I was] a stronger artist than a technician. How come then it shows so much more now?

Abbott: As a matter of fact, I've always been a little afraid of performing. I thought that if I watched the audience, I would lose my focus. So then I learned that these are two separate things: You can be with people and keep your focus at the same time. It's almost a technique in itself then?

Abbott: Yes, I suppose you could say so. How did your performance in Stars on Ice help you in that respect?

Abbott: After Torino, I did 41 shows in a row in the American tour. It was a blast. I had to skate about three quarters of my Olympic program, with triple Axels and triple-triple combinations, 41 times in a row. It was solid repetition of that program, but I also learned to become more confident in front of an audience. I learned so much there. If you say that you always felt you were a stronger artist than a technician, does that mean Stars on Ice helped you find yourself?

Abbott: Yes, you could say so. I do feel liberated when I am at my best. Then I feel very relaxed and comfortable. I have that feeling of freedom then.

I do play with the audience during my programs -- especially in the short program, which is much easier, as the feeling of the program is quite entertaining. Sometimes I'll catch someone's eyes in the audience, and then I may smile or wink. I do not lose my focus anymore. What about your skating skills? How have they so significantly improved?

Abbott: It's just a matter of growing and maturity. Choreographers always told me that I had great edges and feet. Also, I must say that training with Yuka [Sato] and Jason is a real opportunity for me. If you've watched Yuka skate, you know what incredible skating skills she has. You mean that you do not work specifically on your skating skills?

Abbott: Of course I train my footwork, and I have stroking sessions, but we mainly focus on run-throughs and elements during practice.

Yet I have spent a lot of time working on the technique of skating. When I worked with Tom Dickson, he spent a lot of time working on figures. I also worked with Janet Lynn, and now with Yuka. Working with such skating legends gave me a better insight of what skating is, beyond technique and athleticism. What did Janet bring you?

Abbott: Janet taught me the purity of edges. She taught me the way to really make an edge and execute a turn without forcing things. She taught me the natural glide, what pure skating is. Can you tell us how you created your two programs to emphasize your qualities as a skater and as a performer?

Abbott: For the short program, we worked with Benji and Buddy Schwimmer, who were world champions in swing for years. After the work I did with Antonio [Najarro, who designed Abbott's Flamenco program last year], I wanted to work with a dance choreographer again, not an ice choreographer. I wanted something entertaining, so the first idea I had was that of swing. I did not know Benji and Buddy, but one of Yuka's best friends is Kristi Yamaguchi, who had won Dancing with the Stars, and she knew someone who knew them and we could connect with them.

I went to California and we worked together off the ice. Then we had Yuka to translate [off-ice] steps, so that they worked on the ice. Yuka smoothed things out. The four of us did the footwork together. What about the free program?

Abbott: It was just Yuka and myself. Does that mean that you do the choreography?

Abbott: (He laughs and shakes his hands as if to answer "No.") I do choreography, but ... just for myself!

We choreographed the whole program together. Then we worked with Roberto Campanella, an Italian ballet dancer from Toronto. He did not change our choreography, but he worked on expanding the movement and the choreography of the program. (Abbott speaks with his hands at the same time -- it's amazing.) Did you work specifically to increase your component scores?

Abbott: I am not working specifically to increase my component marks. I cannot control what the judges are marking! I do what I believe in, so that I can really enjoy. I am looking to express different things on the ice, different feelings, so that I am excited to skate each time. I can go out and train every day. It would be too boring otherwise! You mentioned several times that you felt on the same level of skating as Patrick Chan now. What did you do then to catch him?

Abbott: For me, this season has been a matter of setting personal goals and achieving them. I haven't been trying to beat anyone. I don't go to practice saying to myself, "I want to beat Patrick," or anyone else. My question is more: "What can I do so that I can be my best?" I know that I am one of the very best in the world. So I really need to be my best.