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Seattle stew: Hanyu has Abbott feeling his age

To flick, or not to flick? That is the question facing Castelli, Shnapir

Brian Orser and his fast-rising pupil, Yuzuru Hanyu, had a lot to smile about Friday night.
Brian Orser and his fast-rising pupil, Yuzuru Hanyu, had a lot to smile about Friday night. (Brenna Greely)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/20/2012) - Jeremy Abbott is a late bloomer. The 27-year-old won the U.S. junior title in 2005 and turned 19 that June, aging out of the Junior Grand Prix. The following season, he didn't qualify for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. In 2007, in his U.S. senior debut, he was fourth in the U.S. and qualified for the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, where he won bronze. Since then, of course, he's gone on to win three U.S. titles.

It's understandable, then, that Yuzuru Hanyu, who won world bronze in March at age 17, has Abbott feeling his age.

"You look at someone like Yuzuru, who is very young and very fresh and can just kind of throw himself on the ice like it's nothing," Abbott said after the teen's record-breaking short program Friday night.

"Eventually, one day it's going to wear on him as well. When I was 17, I could hit my head and get back up and keep on going, but I certainly didn't have his talent at that age. It came a lot harder for me. I've worked hard for where I'm at, and I'm not going to lay down and let some 17-year-old just walk on by me. It's going to be a lot of hard work, but I'm still in the fight."

Abbott sits third after the short, nearly 20 points off the lead after falling on his quad toe, a jump he and coach Yuka Sato are retooling to gain greater consistency. But he's pleased with the rest of his "Spy" short, choreographed by dancer Benji Schwimmer to music by film composer Nathan Lanier.

"Everything is very intricate and very thought out -- no movement comes without a purpose -- so it's exhausting; it's a lot of work," he said. "I knew the quad would be a challenge here, but I'm proud of what I put out."

Brian Orser, the two-time Olympic silver medalist who coaches Hanyu in Toronto, didn't know his skater had set a new world record until Hanyu began his round of TV interviews.

"Is that true? Wow," he said. "Make sure you tell him that, because I wasn't sure ... This was a really big step for him, because as we all know, he sometimes gets a little tight in the short program. This is going to give him a lot of confidence. It's a new look for him, a new direction, a new training style. So it's nice when it all comes together."

Orser took a gamble letting Jeff Buttle choreograph Hanyu's short to the hard-edged arrangement of Gary Moore's "Parisian Walkways," which isn't an obvious fit with the young skater's lyrical style.

"At first when I heard the music, I was like, 'OK, we'll see where this goes,' but he's just as passionate for this as he would be for last year's long (to Craig Armstrong's Romeo and Juliet), for instance," he said.

"This just creates another look for him, another image. He is very theatrical and lyrical, and I think it was just really important we go in a different direction so we don't get stuck in one genre, because I know he is capable of lots of stuff. And he embraced it, he just kind of went with it."

To flick, or not to flick?

Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir have traveled to Quebec to work with Julie Marcotte, creator of both their "Stray Cat Strut" short and Tango free, to add some freedom of expression to their competitive routines.

"Just the way we were carrying ourselves and communicating beforehand, it feels completely different," Shnapir said. "The minute we take the ice, we're already feeling that energy."

The Boston-based skaters are still training their throw triple Axel and throw quad Salchow, but for now, they are doing a throw triple Salchow and throw double Axel in their programs.

"With the consistent run-throughs this season, we've really focused in on what we can do and what we do well," Shnapir said. "So there's not as much pressure and stress doing the elements; instead, we can focus on expressing the program. My skating, in the past, I felt like Marisa did a lot of great presentation, and I was just sort of there. I was a big presence -- obviously, I'm a big guy (6'4") -- [but] I didn't feel like I had anything to add to it."

"We've really been working on presenting outward all of the time with Julie," Castelli said. "She says if she's not screaming, she's not impressed."

The team, fifth in the U.S. last season, works with ballroom expert Russell Lee Jackson to perfect their Tango moves, carriage and attitude in the free skate.

"We've been working on hitting the notes better, our connection, the Tango aspect, trying to authenticate the program more," Castelli said.

She has yet to fully incorporate a Tango "foot flick" -- a move the lady does in response to the man's brush or tap with his lead foot -- into the on-ice routine, and with good reason.

"We had a pretty interesting flick in it, but we're nervous to do it because the blades are just flying," Castelli said.

"We do it on the floor, and a couple of times she hits my calf, and I go, 'Thank God the blades aren't on,' " Shnapir said.