Skate champ, Aspen native Jeremy Abbott confident big move was the right one
November 30, 2009
NEW YORK – Jeremy Abbott was a total slob when he lived at home, clothes strewn all over his bedroom back in Colorado.
“It was a disaster,” the reigning U.S. figure skating champion and Aspen native said. “But since I’ve been on my own, I’ve been making sure to keep my apartment immaculate. It’s very clean, and I’m very surprised at myself.
“I didn’t think I could do that.”
It’s exactly the sort of self-discovery and personal responsibility Abbott sought when he left his coach of a decade and moved across the country less than a year before the Olympics. The judges aren’t going to award any style points based on the cleanliness of his bedroom, but little signs like this assure him he made the right choice – and that he’s on track to compete for a medal at February’s Vancouver Games.
The next major test is this week’s Grand Prix final in Tokyo, where Abbott is the defending champ.
Abbott grew up skating with the Aspen Skating Club – he was a competitive skater with the club by age 4. At age 14, he moved from Aspen to Colorado Springs in order to further his training, but occasionally returned to skate in annual club shows after making a name for himself in U.S. figure skating.
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He won his first U.S. title in January under Tom Zakrajsek, with whom he had trained at the Colorado Springs World Arena in his home state since 1999. A few months later, Abbott decided to switch to former world champ Yuka Sato at the Detroit Skating Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
“I felt really deep down that I needed a change,” Abbott said while visiting New York in August. “It was time. Now or never. This is the Olympic year, and I wanted to give myself the best opportunity. And I feel this is my best opportunity.”
He felt he needed to be more independent, more in control. On and off the ice.
Abbott was 23 years old and had never lived by himself. His mother, Allison Scott, laughs as she talks about the big move.
“I love my son, but there is a time at which it’s good to get out,” she said.
“I’ll be the first to admit it,” she added. “When you have a kid living at home and they’re that focused, as a parent sometimes you do too much.”
Sure, her son could have gotten his own apartment in Colorado Springs. But he truly needed to be on his own.
“To make a change in a certain environment when everything’s so the same – I think it’s really hard,” said Abbott, who turned 24 in June. “I’ve tried that before, tried to make the change, and you just fall back into old habits when you don’t have something or somewhere or someone to keep you on that other path.”
Before the move, Abbott and Zakrajsek agree, he often was looking outside himself for motivation. The coach believes Abbott could have achieved all his goals if he stayed in Colorado. But as Zakrajsek told his wife, “it’s like having a child go off to college – they have to go spread their wings and become their own person.”
So Abbott made the big decision, changed coaches, told Sato exactly what he thought he wanted and needed. Now when he goes to the rink each day, he thinks, “OK, I’m going to get on this ice and I’m going to work hard for me.”
In Colorado, Abbott trained with Brandon Mroz and Ryan Bradley, who both placed in the top four at nationals in January, and Rachael Flatt, who was second on the women’s side. He said he sometimes found himself distracted by working with so many other elite skaters.
In Detroit, he trains with reigning U.S. women’s champion Alissa Czisny, so “I didn’t have to give all of that up,” Abbott said. “But it’s just toned down.”
“The whole vibe is a little more relaxed,” he said. “I loved being on the ice with Ryan and Brandon and Rachael. I loved having that competition. But I kind of like being able to just focus on myself and not have to worry about what everyone else is doing every day.”
He got a small apartment about five minutes from the rink and furnished it with a bunch of stuff from Ikea. Photos of family and friends and posters from events he’s competed at hang from the walls. There’s an enormous black and white picture of Amsterdam, which he visited on his first trip out of the U.S.
He’s been trying to cook, making dishes like gnocchi from scratch or risotto.
It’s also the little signs that assure his mother he made the right decision. Sometimes it’s just a Facebook status update describing that day’s practice that lets her know her son is happy.
Sato has watched Abbott find a nice equilibrium in his new home as he developed a tight-knit group of friends. She sees a needed consistency from him in practice – a consistency that has at times eluded him in competition.
Abbott finished a disappointing 11th at the world championships in Los Angeles in March before the coaching change. He tumbled from second to fifth after falling three times during his free skate at the NHK Trophy in Nagano, Japan, in early November. But he bounced back three weeks later to win Skate Canada and qualify for the Grand Prix final.
Sato believes Abbott now has the foundation in place to have more days like the one in Cleveland in January when he was crowned America’s best.
“You may think those things don’t matter, that it has nothing to do with skating and performance,” she said. “I think it really does affect it. He takes responsibility for his own actions, and eventually that starts to affect in a very positive way on his skating.”