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Abbott Captures First U.S. Figure Skating Title

"I wasn't really happy with my program, but I'm learning to compete and keep mistakes to a minimum," said Jeremy Abbott, who had 241.89 points.
"I wasn't really happy with my program, but I'm learning to compete and keep mistakes to a minimum," said Jeremy Abbott, who had 241.89 points. (By Amy Sancetta -- Associated Press)

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By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 26, 2009

CLEVELAND, Jan. 25 -- The men's free skate at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships accomplished many things: It crowned a new U.S. champion, Jeremy Abbott, a man who will become an immediate gold medal favorite for the upcoming world championships. It revealed a deeper, more skilled field than any in recent memory, providing further evidence that the United States has shifted from a women's skating power to a force on the men's side.

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It also directed a spotlight toward a rapidly rising training group in Colorado Springs, a figure skating center that produced Abbott, surprise second-place finisher Brandon Mroz, fourth-place finisher Ryan Bradley and a host of other big-time performers at this week's championships.

The biggest was Abbott, an elegant, dynamic, technically proficient skater who held on to his lead after Friday's short program to claim his first U.S. title with a free skate that was far from flawless but which drew huge marks for presentation.

Abbott, who earned 241.89 points overall with his victories in the short and long programs, topped Mroz (229.70) and Evan Lysacek, who had won two straight U.S. titles but finished third with 229.10. Bradley claimed 221.40 points for fourth place and three-time U.S. champion Johnny Weir managed fifth with 203.99.

Annandale's Tommy Steenberg posted the seventh-best free skate of the competition to move from 14th to 10th.

The top three will head to Los Angeles for the March world championships, seeking to surpass the bronze medal finish by Weir last year.

"I felt awful leading up to this event, awful today and awful on the ice, but I was able to control myself and do what I needed to do," said Abbott, 23, who won the prestigious International Skating Union's Grand Prix Final in late December. "I wasn't really happy with my program, but I'm learning to compete and keep mistakes to a minimum."

The title is "certainly something I've been working for for a long time and I was very happy when it happened."

Mroz, a St. Louis native and high school senior, offered the day's most charming tale and biggest eye-opener, hitting a quadruple toe jump at the start of a lyrical, nearly mistake-free program that helped him jump from fourth place after the short program to second overall. He beat Abbott by nearly seven points in his technical score.

Mroz, 18, finished fourth at the last two world junior championships and wasn't expected to contend for a medal here in his first major senior event. He, Abbott and Bradley share the same coach, Tom Zakrajsek, who also trains women's silver medal winner Rachael Flatt. They share ice time with U.S. pairs champions Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker, among a number of top pairs that call the Broadmoor Skating Club their home rink.

"To have two of the top four men, they must be doing something right there," Lysacek said.

Even Bradley, 25, wowed the fans -- and, to some extent, the judging panel -- with a thrilling program that featured a downgraded quadruple toe jump and two triple axels. Second at the 2007 U.S. championships, Bradley finished 15th at that year's world championships.

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