SOCHI, Russia — The morning after falling with a sickening crash during his short program at the Sochi Olympics, Jeremy Abbott awoke with deep bruises from his right hip up through his right shoulder and in far more pain than he had been 12 hours earlier. He had full range of motion on his battered right side, but the pain was unbearable when he tried to engage the muscles in his ride side—rendering figure skating toe loops an impossible feat.
Determined to complete the final Olympics of his career, the 28-year-old Abbott mentally ran through his planned free skate Friday morning and swapped out loops for alternate jumps. Then he wrote down his three goals for the performance on his iPad, as he always does, and showed them to his coach, Yuka Sato.
She took the device from him, erased all that he had written and typed just one wore: “Skate.”
“All I want you to do today is to skate,” Sato told him.
And that’s what Abbott did, staying upright throughout a more conservative free skate than he had hoped to perform, and finish his 2014 Olympics with dignity.
With 15 skaters set to perform after him, Abbott had no idea where he would finish. It certainly won’t be atop the medal podium, and it’s highly unlikely he’ll equal his disappointing ninth-place finish in his 2010 Olympic debut.
But Abbott thanked the Russian and international fans who cheered him back to his feet Thursday. And he had defiant words for those who have labeled him a choker.
“I just want to put up my middle finger,” said Abbott, a four-time and defending U.S. champion whose international results have never fully matched his potential.
Asked to describe the pressure of competing in the Olympics, Abbott said that at the 2010 Vancouver Games, his debut, “it felt like this insurmountable beast.”
“It was something very scary and something almost impossible to overcome,” he said.
Sochi was different, he said. He practiced well. He felt comfortable on the ice. And he was confident that if he skated a clean short program and put himself in position, he could end up on the medal podium with a strong free skate.
And that’s where he went wrong, Abbott suggested.
“I really was putting a lot of pressure on myself to skate a clean program, because I am good enough to be on the podium here,” he said. “I won’t be. But I truly believed coming in that I had a chance to do it—if I could give myself that opportunity to do a clean skate. And so I put a little bit too much pressure on myself to have to skate that clean program because I just wanted it so bad.
“It’s a very fine line, when you want something so bad. It’s like a matter of squeezing it so tight that you almost strangle it [instead of] just holding it with a gentle grip and really just taking it. I kind of strangled it yesterday.”