Abbott wins men's short program
CLEVELAND -- Jeremy Abbott might put an end to the Evan and Johnny Show's five-year run.
Abbott reminded everyone Friday night that there's more to the American men than Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir, following his big win at last month's Grand Prix final with a commanding performance in the short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
His score of 86.40 points was almost three points better than Lysacek and is sure to get the attention of European champion Brian Joubert and everyone else in the world.
"I feel like the national championships are always a little bit about Evan and Johnny," Abbott said. "My goal was to do the best I could and maybe break through that. But my focus wasn't really on that."
Now everybody is focused on him going into Sunday's free skate.
Lysacek, the two-time defending champion, is second with 83.59. Weir was the surprise of the night -- and not in a good way. The U.S. champ from 2003-06 and the reigning world bronze medalist popped his triple axel into a single and is way down in seventh place, trailing Abbott and Lysacek by double digits.
He's less than five points out of third place, but he'll need to be spectacular Sunday to have a shot at claiming one of the three spots on the world championships team.
"The performance was obviously a huge disappointment," Weir said. "Right now I'm very upset with myself. I can't wait to get back in the locker room or go back to the hotel and sit in the shower and just cry for an hour because I'm so disappointed in myself."
Abbott was the junior champion in 2005 and was fourth as a senior the last two years. But he -- and everybody else -- have taken a back seat to Lysacek and Weir, who have not only dominated nationals but also been perennial medal contenders on the international stage.
This year, though, it's been all about Abbott.
He is the first U.S. man to win the Grand Prix final title, and no one else even came close. Though Joubert dropped out midway through because of a back injury, Abbott had finished ahead of the 2007 world champion in the short program.
"I've seen Jeremy skate like this in training for several years now," coach Tom Zakrajsek said. "I feel like he hasn't really changed, everyone else is starting to see who he really is."
For everyone who complains that the new judging system has robbed figure skating of its artistic beauty, Abbott is their answer. Skating to "Adagio," he oozed expression, acknowledging every up and down, every change in the music from the top of his head to the tips of his fingers.
His style is so classic it brings back memories of John Curry, the British Olympic champion who infused men's skating with art.
"The artistic side of the sport is what drew me to it," Abbott said. "But I really like the athletic side of it, as well."
Abbott skated right after Lysacek and couldn't help but hear all of the applause as he waited to start his program. But it didn't faze him at all as everything he did appeared effortless. He seemed to be suspended in the air on a huge triple axel, yet he landed it so perfectly his edge left a stencil in the ice. He was practically a blur on his spins, and no one will call him for traveling. His footwork was complex, yet he made it look as easy as crossovers.
When his technical score of 46.79 was posted, Zakrajsek's eyes widened.
"[That] is a really great technical score for a short program," Zakrajsek said. "Obviously Evan is a great champion. He's been on the podium at the world championships, he's a two-time national champion, he knows how to win the title and he knows how to defend it.
"Jeremy outskated him right after he skated well," Zakrajsek said.
Lysacek did skate well, but his program still needs some fine-tuning. He was surprised last year at how unnerving it was to defend a national title, and it hasn't gotten any easier the second time around. He looked so focused during the warmup he bordered on uptight, and his program had that same nervous energy.
The landing on his opening triple axel was shaky -- it was right in front of the judges, too -- and he had to fight mightily to save it. His spins didn't have nearly the speed they usually do, and he got plenty of exercise with the traveling he did on his combination spin.
The bigger problem, though, might be the music. "Bolero" is a spectacular piece -- Torvill and Dean, anyone? -- but there are no obvious breaks or changes in the music, leaving the audience without a natural place to get involved. The fans tried, a cheer rising as he began his majestic straight-line footwork. But it was quickly overpowered by the music and died out.
"I said last year that defending my title is the most difficult thing I do," Lysacek said. "To have a really strong start is nice."
At this point, Weir would love a do-over.
He popped the triple axel twice during warmups and did the same when the pressure was on. The rest of his program was solid, but it definitely didn't have its usual flair. Even his costume seemed subdued.
"Probably a five," Weir said when asked what his confidence level is. "When I put a new face on and redo my hair, I'll be a nine or a 10."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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