U.S. Figure Skating Championships: Abbott sets American record in short program

January 10, 2014

American figure-skating royalty is on hand for the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, whether lured by broadcast duties, love of the sport or both.

But for all the expertise of past champions Scott Hamilton, Michelle Kwan, Brian Boitano, Michael Weiss and others, few cared to hazard a guess about who will emerge as the U.S. men’s champion at Boston’s TD Garden.

The only consensus was that the absence of reigning Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek, a two-time U.S. champion, had created a golden opportunity for any one of a half-dozen men to seize the national crown and seal his place on the Olympic team bound for Sochi.

Making the strongest case among them in Friday’s short program was 28-year-old Jeremy Abbott, who opened with a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination and earned an American record 99.86 points.

“I knew this would be my last U.S. championships, and I wanted to take it for what it was,” Abbott said. “I wanted to take in all the energy and the excitement and really live in it because it’s never happening again. . . . This is a night that I’m never going to forget.”

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Richard Dornbush, the 2011 U.S. silver medalist, was second (92.04), his high-energy program highlighted by quadruple Salchow.

Finishing third (87.47) was fan favorite Jason Brown, 19, who didn’t perform a quad but compensated with a stylish program to Prince’s “The Question of U” that showcased his long limbs and flair for performance.

Reigning U.S. champion Max Aaron delivered a more difficult program but teetered on the brink of control on his biggest jumps and was fourth (86.95).

U.S. Figure Skating’s open casting call to fill its two men’s Olympic spots for Sochi stands in stark contrast to the battle that’s brewing for the three women’s spots.

Thursday’s women’s short program produced a logjam of talent at the top, with two-time and defending U.S. champion Ashley Wagner in fourth.

U.S. officials aren’t obligated to name the top finishers here to the 2014 Olympic team. The selections, to be announced Sunday afternoon, will be based instead on skaters’ results over the past year.

That should serve Wagner well, regardless of how she fares in Saturday’s free skate. She and Gracie Gold, the leader after the short program, are ranked fifth and sixth in the world and generally considered locks for Sochi.

But 15-year-old Polina Edmunds, the 2013 U.S. junior champion, injected herself into the Olympic conversation with a dazzling display of jumping Thursday, knocking Wagner from the podium as she vaulted into second, ahead of third-place finisher Mirai Nagasu.

David Glynn, Edmunds’s coach, said Friday he felt the top three finishers at the U.S. championships should get the Olympic nod even though his 15-year-old protégé has no international experience at the senior level.

“U.S. Figure Skating would have a hard time not naming the top three to the Olympic spots,” Edmunds said. “I think it would be difficult for them to face the media, so I don’t anticipate that being a problem.”

Frank Carroll, who formerly coached Lysacek and Kwan but now works with Gold, said he supported the principle of awarding Olympic spots based on a skater’s body of work rather than a single event.

Wagner, 22, a West Potomac graduate, made plain that she’s not counting on any implied guarantee.

“I don’t want to feel like I take away an Olympic spot from someone,” Wagner said. “I want to earn it. That’s my goal here. For me, I need to get in the top three to really feel good with myself being on that Olympic team.”

Earlier Friday, ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White staged a short program set to “My Fair Lady” that was sheer romance and, in the eyes of judges, near statistical perfection.

Their score of 80.69 crushed the 18-duo field, leaving little doubt they will clinch a record sixth consecutive U.S. title when the free dance is contested Saturday.

Madison Chock, 21, and Evan Bates, 24, were second (73.41). And siblings Alex and Maia Shibutani, 22 and 19, were a distant third (68.00).

Liz Clarke currently covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post, she has also covered five Olympic Games, two World Cups and written extensively about college sports, tennis and auto racing.
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