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Abbott armed with Olympic dreams and quad

Czisny focuses on lessons learned

Jeremy Abbott will attempt to defend his 2009 U.S. men's title next week in Spokane.
Jeremy Abbott will attempt to defend his 2009 U.S. men's title next week in Spokane. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/05/2010) - When he arrives in Spokane next week, defending his national title won't be uppermost on Jeremy Abbott's mind.

"I really would like to, but my goal is to go to the Olympics and peak at the right time," the skater told reporters on a USOC teleconference yesterday.

"I do feel like the under dog. Evan [Lysacek] won [2009] worlds and the Grand Prix Final, but I don't feel like I've got a lot of chasing to do. I feel I'm on par with Evan and Johnny [Weir] and all the other skaters in the U.S. I can recapture the title, but the [main] goal is not to recapture the title, the goal is the Vancouver Olympics."

Not that Abbott plans to concede anything. He said he will include a quadruple toe loop in his free skate, something other top contenders may not attempt.

"My goal [with the quad] this season was to put it in all my competitions so I was very secure in it for nationals, Olympics and Worlds," he explained. "It may not be necessary [in Spokane]; the last two world champions haven't done it [to win worlds], but I feel very strongly I will need it this season.

"It's a solid jump for me. With everything else in my programs I feel it helps put me in the top echelon of skaters. I feel good and I plan to do it at nationals."

The personable Abbott is about as far from a braggart as an elite athlete can get. Still, he exudes quiet confidence heading in to his fourth senior U.S. Championship, comfortable that he can make the U.S. team and test the world's best in Vancouver, including defending Olympic champion Evgeny Plushenko.

"Not only is my artistry up there, I feel the technical aspect of my skating has improved greatly," he said. "In my mind [Plushenko] is another skater I have to contend with. He's not on a pedestal. I just have to go out and do what I can do and hope the judges like what I can offer.

"[The Olympics] have been my dream since I was four or five years old. I'm not going to let this opportunity get away from me."

Abbott's most recent competitive attempts at the four-revolution jump have been a mixed bag. A clean quad helped him win gold at 2009 Skate Canada, but he missed the element at Japan's NHK Trophy and at the Grand Prix Final.

"There is kind of a risk/reward with any jump; unfortunately, with the quad, [the risk] is a bit more because it's factored," he said. "I did it at Skate Canada and it felt great, and I was rewarded for it.

"When [judges] see someone put out a quad, it tends to push up your other scores, because not everyone tries it. Unfortunately if it's downgraded you get zero, and that's tough. But as I say, I feel very confident with it."

The skater's programs, a short choreographed by Shae-Lynn Bourne to Jeff Beck's version of the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" and a free created by Pasquale Camerlengo to Saint-Saens' "Symphony No. 3" are unaltered from the Grand Prix Final, where he placed second in the free and fourth overall.

"We didn't make any changes coming into the U.S. Championships," he said. "We plan on the quad, we plan on having the same jump content.

"Right now, we're taking the time to refine and continue to train the programs, making sure they're secure and comfortable and everything is set up the way it should be."

With his easy-going approach, Abbott hopes to reverse his results of the 2008/2009 season, which vaulted him to the top but ended in disappointment. He was the first American man to win the Grand Prix Final with 237.72 points, a then-record for a U.S. skater, and captured his first senior national title in Cleveland.

Less than two weeks later, he slipped to fifth at the Four Continents Championships. At the World Figure Skating Championships in Los Angeles, he placed 11th for the second year in a row.

"My goal was a world medal and my results in the beginning of the year showed I have the capability," he said.

"I started the season too early and pushed too hard all the way through. This year I started later and I allowed my body and mind a rest [after the Grand Prix Final] so I don't feel overextended. . . I'm listening to my coaches, Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen. I trust what they say. I'm not wearing myself too thin."

A move from Colorado Springs to Detroit, and coaching change from long-time mentor Tom Zakrajsek, coach of Rachael Flatt, Brandon Mroz and Ryan Bradley, to 1994 world champion Sato and her husband, two-time U.S. pair champion Dungjen, has added to his positive frame of mind.

"[My coaches] have been fantastic," he said. "I feel they absolutely one hundred per cent believe in me and my ability. Just having that amazing support behind me gives me that confidence. I certainly see more consistency every day."

Abbott's renewed enthusiasm for the sport has him thinking past the Olympics, to the 2010 World Championships in Turin and perhaps beyond.

"After the Olympics my plan is to come back to Detroit," he said. "Depending on how I do, I may or may not [continue] to Worlds. My plan is to do both, but if I win [the Olympics] I guess my coaches and I will discuss it. My plan is to continue on to worlds at least."

Although Abbott admits including a quad, as well as triple Axels and complex footwork and transitions, makes flawless performances rare, he said he wants to create something memorable, if not in Spokane than in Vancouver in February.

"I'm doing the quad because I want to be competitive and mainly because I can do it," he said. "I don't want to water down the program.

"Last year we made a conscious decision to leave it out [in favor] of more consistent performances. Now my consistency has grown and I feel I can put the quad in my program. It's something I want to do for myself and because it will help me win."

Czisny makes some changes

Before she claimed the U.S. title in Cleveland last season, Alissa Czisny had her share of ups and downs. Considered a possible contender for the 2006 Olympic team, the graceful 22-year-old said she just wasn't ready for success at that point in her career.

"In the past four years I've grown and learned a lot about myself and my skating," she said. "I would have loved to have gone to that Olympics, but you know what, it wasn't my time. The lessons I've learned since then I couldn't have learned any other way."

Czisny continues to learn; in two trips to worlds, in 2007 and last season, she has finished 15th and 11th, respectively. Respectable but unspectacular fall results, fourth at Rostelecom Cup at second at Skate Canada, prompted her and coach Julianne Berlin to review her free skate, choreographed by David Wilson to Dr. Zhivago.

"After Skate Canada I decided to change up my long just a little bit; especially, I've changed the order of jumps at the end," she said.

"Throughout the year I've ended my program with a triple toe and triple loop, repeating the loop from earlier [in the program]. The loop is not my strongest jump and I didn't get the calls, so changing and [having] the toe last is a little easier for me. We've played around with adding second triple flip in program also."

Czisny, known for her fine spins and spirals, has had key jumps downgraded by technical panels this season, something she's worked on not only with Berlin but with 1988 Olympic champion Brian Boitano and his coach, Linda Leaver. Both will be on hand in Spokane.

"Getting my jumps called is always something I continue to work on, to make stronger," she said. "A lot of times [I hit them] in practice but in competition I get nervous. We're following a regular training regimen and they're coming together pretty well.

"Linda and Brian have been such a great help to me the past few years; because Linda has been in this situation with Brian coming in to an Olympics, she knows what it takes. . . Brian is also helping me focus, to control the things I can control."