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Pinch-hitter Abbott gets the call

Fourth-place finisher at U.S. championships plans quads in both programs in Gothenburg

Team USA's Jeremy Abbott.
Team USA's Jeremy Abbott. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(03/13/2008) - With two-time U.S. champion Evan Lysacek injured and out of worlds, the spotlight -- and pressure -- falls on Jeremy Abbott.

Abbott placed fourth behind Lysacek, Johnny Weir and Stephen Carriere at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Saint Paul, Minn.

After a disappointing short program in Saint Paul, where he stumbled out of two jump elements, Abbott regrouped with a solid free skate but still fell short of the top three by 6.21 points.

"It's kind of bittersweet," he said at the time. "I stood up on the quad, which was a big hurdle for me, but I didn't give that little bit extra I needed to make the world team."

Now the 22-year-old skater, who hails from Aspen, Colo., is on his way to Gothenburg after all.

"I got the call night [Wednesday] at around 7:30," Tom Zakrajsek, who trains Abbott at Colorado Springs' World Arena, said.

"I called Jeremy as soon as I hung up, and after he expressed concern about Evan, it sunk in. He asked, 'Are you serious?' and I said yes. He said, 'Wow, great.' Maybe it's not the best circumstances to go to your first worlds, but Jeremy has taken the role of first alternate very seriously, so he is prepared to go and skate well."

Zakrajsek added that Abbott will practice at the World Arena through Saturday, and would depart for Sweden that evening, arriving Sunday afternoon. He is refusing media requests until after competing in the men's short program, which will take place next Friday.

"It's time for him to stay focused," Zakrajsek explained.

Abbott, who won the U.S. junior title in 2005, comes from an athletic family. His older sister, Gwen, was a nationally ranked downhill skier who competed in the X-Games as a ski racer. He has been active in establishing foundations and raising funds to assist up-and-coming skaters in the Aspen area.

This is the second instance this season he has pinch-hit. Last month, he competed at the Four Continents Championship in Goyang City, South Korea, after Weir begged off, saying he needed more time to train for worlds.

There, Abbott had a breakthrough of sorts, landing a quad toe loop in his free skate after going zero for seven on the move in competitions throughout the fall and winter. (He landed the jump in two '07 summer competitions.) He placed ninth in the short, fourth in the free skate, and fifth overall; establishing a new ISU personal best 206.40 total score.

The skater Abbott had a disappointing fall Grand Prix season, placing eighth at Skate Canada and fourth at NHK Trophy. As at Four Continents and the U.S. Championships, his nemesis was the short program; at Skate Canada, he placed 11th in that segment, and at NHK Trophy, 12th. At both events, his free skate rated fourth best.

"The programs he has been doing all season are the ones he intends to do in worlds," Zakrajsek said. "He will do the quad-triple combination in the short and a quad in long.

"There was a point where we talked about using the triple Lutz-triple toe in the short [instead of a quad combo] but we trained it and Jeremy said, 'It doesn't feel right for me, I don't think I can go backwards.' So I said let's go forward with the quad."

It's a risky choice, especially since the U.S. may need a strong performance from Abbott in order to help qualify for three men's spots at the 2009 World Championships, to be held in Los Angeles. (In order to gain three athletes, the sum of the placements of the top two U.S. finishers in Gothenburg cannot equal more than 13.)

"Jeremy has ambitious goals and has to look beyond the immediate," Zakrajsek explained.

"If you want to be a top man in the world, you need a quad at least in the long. To be champion, you need it in the short and long. If you look at past champions -- from (Brian) Joubert and (Stéphane) Lambiel to (Evgeni) Plushenko and (Alexei) Yagudin -- they all had that. Obviously that's the standard and Jeremy is capable of it."

With his unexpected worlds' debut less than a week away, Abbott is practicing and landing the jump, said his coach.

"The training of the quad has been even more consistent since he returned from Korea," Zakrajsek said.

"I had told Jeremy, even if you don't go to worlds this year -- and you probably won't -- we will train with full-out intensity through worlds, so that you'll know what that kind of training is like and you'll be able to handle it in the future. It's just happening a little sooner than we expected."