SOCHI, Russia — Jeremy Abbott’s figure-skating career has been riddled with contradictions.
He has been brilliant competing for national titles, winning his fourth U.S. Championship just last month in Boston.
But Abbott has been his most error-prone on the Olympic stage, finishing ninth in the 2010 Vancouver Games. And here at Sochi’s Iceberg Skating Palace, the setting of Abbott’s final Olympic campaign, his struggles have continued. He has nailed difficult jump combinations in practice only to stumble when it truly matters, in competition.
Tapped to perform his short program in figure-skating’s new team event, the 28-year-old Abbott fell twice and finished seventh among 10 competitors, putting U.S. medal hopes in jeopardy out of the gate. Behind first-place performances by Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the U.S. managed bronze, to Russia’s gold and Canada’s silver.
And on Thursday, when the men’s competition got under way with the short program, Abbott fell spectacularly attempting the opening quadruple jump that had tripped him up before. The crack of his right hip bone on the ice was chilling, and Abbott lay motionless for several seconds after slamming into the boards, only to rise and complete the program amid cheers from an empathetic, supportive crowd.
Friday, Abbott returned to the ice amid warm applause for the final performance of his Olympic career.
Sitting 15th among the field of 24, Abbott had no chance of finishing with a medal and only a slim chance of improving on his ninth-place finish in Vancouver. Whether because of lingering pain from the previous night’s fall or a tactical re-evaluation, Abbott didn’t attempt the daunting quadruple toe jump that had given him fits each time Olympic judges were watching, and delivered a nicely rendered triple instead.
In other spots, he substituted doubles for triples. And he stayed upright and elegant throughout, with no outward sign of struggle or fear.
Abbott’s reward was a season’s best 160.12 points, which vaulted him into the lead, with the best skaters to go.
Friday’s free skate will crown the 2014 Olympic men’s figure-skating champion.
Yuzuru Hanyu, 19, holds nearly a four-point lead over three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada. If Hanyu can hold onto his lead, he’d become the youngest Olympic men’s champion in 66 years and the first from Japan.
Chan, 23, who finished fifth in Vancouver, is also seeking to deliver his country’s first Olympic gold in men’s singles. And he launched into his psychological strategy almost the moment Thursday’s standings were official, noting how much he preferred pursuing a front-running score rather than defending one.
“It’s tough knowing that you have the lead and you could blow it,” said Chan, who was edged by Hanyu for gold at the Grand Prix finals in December.
Spain’s Javier Fernandez, 22, who plans to perform three quad jumps, is third. And three skaters, including 19-year-old Jason Brown, are within a point of overtaking him.