Aspen native Jeremy Abbott: the forgotten U.S. skating champ
Aspen, CO Colorado
VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Jeremy Abbott can be forgiven if he feels forgotten.
The Vancouver ice is crowded with world champions and Olympic medalists. Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko is chasing his second straight gold medal, a feat not achieved since Dick Button in 1948 and 1952. Switzerland’s Stephane Lambiel owns two world titles and was runner-up to Plushenko four years ago at the Turin Games.
As the reigning world champion, Evan Lysacek gets all kinds of attention. France’s Brian Joubert also has a world win in his resume. Johnny Weir, well, he travels with a spotlight – and that was before the fur started flying.
Then there’s Abbott, an Aspen native and America’s champ the last two years – as if anyone recognizes it at these games.
“I like where I’m at,” Abbott said Monday after a run-through of his short program, which he will perform Tuesday night when the men’s event begins. “I like that I’m not the center of attention for the U.S. men. It really gives me room to breathe and not get ahead of myself.
“I think what I have accomplished the last couple of years puts me in the top group and in contention for a medal, certainly. But I don’t worry about that too much.”
And, it seems, hardly anyone is worrying about or even mentioning Abbott in their assessments of perhaps the strongest men’s field in Olympic history. Here’s a guy who handily beat Lysacek and Weir, along with his other countrymen, in two straight nationals. A guy who won the Grand Prix final in 2008, his breakthrough season, and won Skate Canada last fall.
Yet Abbott is an afterthought, quite possibly the most overlooked champion the United States has had.
Abbott’s rise has been filled with detours. After winning the U.S. junior title in 2005, he failed to qualify for nationals the following year. He followed his Grand Prix final title – the first by an American man – with his first U.S. title, only to bomb at worlds by finishing 11th for a second straight year.
Perhaps that’s why he remains somewhere in the shadows on the international stage, particularly at these games. The juicy story lines are built around Plushenko’s chase of Button’s feat and the Russian’s return from a three-year retirement. Or around Lambiel’s comeback. Or Weir’s costumes. Or Lysacek’s sore foot. Or Joubert’s grousing about other skaters ditching the quad.
You won’t hear Abbott yelling, “Hey, look at me,” either.
“My coach’s advice is to be prepared and to just roll with the punches,” the 24-year-old Abbott said. “Johnny and Evan are very high-profile athletes in figure skating and I’m kind of quiet and stay in the background. So it lets me stay focused on myself; it’s not hard to concentrate on me.”
Added Weir: “I don’t know Jeremy that well. He definitely keeps to himself and I keep to myself.”
Not that Abbott isn’t noticed when he hits the ice. His short program to Jeff Beck’s rendition of “A Day in the Life,” is breezy and bluesy. And memorable.
It’s not unthinkable that he will be in medal position after the short.
“I just want to put out two solid performances I like and I want to get off the ice feeling happy and satisfied with myself,” Abbott said. “I work very hard to make sure I’m happy with my goals and the way I performed.”
Abbott switched coaches from Tom Zakrajsek to Yuka Sato before last season, moving from Colorado Springs, Colo., to Detroit. The change drew more attention than most of Abbott’s performances, particularly with Zakrajsek having one of the deepest stables of high-level skaters.
But it has worked for Abbott. He says Sato, the 1994 world champion, has a “fantastic personality.”
“She communicates with me really well, she provides stability in skating and she keeps me grounded,” he said. “Her personality is even-keel, even when I get very emotional.”
Zakrajsek, who also coaches U.S. women’s champion Rachael Flatt, said last week he is “pulling for Jeremy” to be on the medals podium.
Abbott also is being mentored by Paul Wylie and spent several minutes chatting with the 1992 Olympic silver medalist after practice Monday. When reminded that Wylie was considered the third man on the U.S. team going into those Albertville Games, Abbott smiled and nodded.
“I like that,” he said.
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