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Rink notes: Abbott mulls Chan's thrall over judges

Brown's ankle trouble defers triple Axel try; Gentlemen, start your quads

Jeremy Abbott is a perplexed by the high scores Patrick Chan has gotten of late.
Jeremy Abbott is a perplexed by the high scores Patrick Chan has gotten of late. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/27/2012) - After his first practice at the San Jose HP Pavilion, a reporter asked Jeremy Abbott who the favorite was for the U.S. title.

"I am," he said. "I'm the only one here who has ever won it. I'm also the only one to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. I'm the only one to win a Grand Prix event this fall."

Almost everyone acquainted with figure skating would agree with Abbott, but somehow, he still gets these kinds of questions.

At age 26, with two U.S. titles, three trips to worlds and an Olympic appearance under his belt, Abbott has heard it all. But this season, it doesn't seem to matter much anymore.

"People can say what they want, and people have said whatever they want," he said after his first practice in San Jose. "But this year when I've gotten off the ice, mistakes or not, I've felt really happy.

"I get head case, I get this, I get that, and you know what, [I think] 'You all have never been in my shoes, you've never performed in front of thousands of people.'"

The noise increased exponentially last season, when major league boot problems contributed to his fourth-place finish at the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

"It was pretty crushing; it was not fun," Abbott said of being left off the U.S. world team sent to the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships.

"The problems didn't allow me to train, and that really cut down on my confidence. I didn't go into any competition prepared. I was just trying to keep my head above water the whole year."

This year, skating two programs he loves -- a swing dance short and a free skate to music from Muse -- Abbott feels like a new man.

"It's not about proving anything to anyone," he said. "It's about skating for my own pleasure and my own goals.

"I've certainly always tried to do that, but when you're in the midst of it, you kind of get caught up in what other people expect of you. This season is for me. I think that's why I feel relaxed and confident."

So confident, he thinks he can compete with anyone, even the mighty Canadian Patrick Chan, who scored some 302.14 points en route to his fifth consecutive Canadian title earlier this month.

"I'm expecting at least 600 points here," Abbott said, laughing. "If I skate two clean programs, I'm at the same level [as Chan], but unfortunately that decision is not in my hands."

Asked what Chan -- who triumphed at the 2011 World Championships by more than 22 points, and handily won the recent Grand Prix Final despite two falls -- does to keep the judges in such thrall, Abbott paused.

"I have no idea," he said. "I admire the quality with which he skates; the control and his edging and his speed are phenomenal. I think in terms of skating skills, he's definitely one of the top in the world. But I definitely think he has things that are lacking.

"They break out the [program] components into five pieces, but they all kind of judge them without separating them out, so maybe Patrick has a 10 in skating skills and lower in interpretation, but they all stay in the same range.

"He is the world champion and the Grand Prix champion, and he just scored 9,000 points at Canadians, so he is definitely the favorite for worlds. But he's not unbeatable."

Brown defers work on triple Axel

Junior Grand Prix champion Jason Brown has been chasing the triple Axel for months, and although he thinks he may have almost caught it, a slight ankle injury will prevent him from trying the three-and-a-half revolution jump here.

"I was really focusing on it hoping to do it here, and last week I did a couple, and I kind of tweaked my landing [right] ankle and decided it is best not to push it," said the 17-year-old from the Chicago area. "I'm going to be wearing something around my ankle for the event."

Brown and his coach, Kori Ade, have made some changes in the skater's free to the Flow Like Water soundtrack since the Grand Prix Final.

"We ended up putting the double Axels early in the program and moving the triples and combinations to the end," he said. "We're doing more of the harder triples at the end [for bonus points]; the loop, the flip-double toe, those are at the end of the program."

Brown, one of the surprise stars of the 2011 U.S. Championships in Greensboro, hopes to recapture that magic here.

"I'm just hoping to skate two clean programs and have fun out there and enjoy every moment," he said. "Enjoy the crowd, and try not to think of the end result and what could or should happen. It would be a dream to get [a standing ovation] again. Hopefully, they like it even more. I hope to keep getting better and better."

Rippon plans quad Salchow in free skate

Two-time world junior champion Adam Rippon, who attempted the quad Lutz in his free skate at fall events, is putting the jump aside here in favor of a quad Salchow.

"I've been training all the quads," he said. "I think in the future it's best to have more than one [quad]. I'm kind of 80 percent on the [quad] Salchow, 80 percent on the Lutz, so it's kind of going up and down with both of them, but I feel like I'm on a really good path to hopefully very soon compete with both.

"But I think I am going to be trying the Salchow at nationals, in the free skate."

While he's dedicated to achieving a quad or two, Rippon says there's more to skating than the four-revolution jump.

"I think I really need to skate as well as I can. The quad is an important asset, but I think that if I skate well, keep my blinders on, focus on what I need to do, I can do very well.

"[The quad] is an element, and you have to do what's within your comfort level for that day. I read Plushenko's press conference [at the European Championships], and he was upset he didn't do a quad, but he knew it wasn't within his limits that day [in the short program]. It's a competition, and you deal with what you have that day, and that's how I'm going to play it with the quad."

Rippon's coach, Jason Dungjen, who with wife Yuka Sato coaches both Rippon and Abbott at the Detroit Skating Club, said the quad Salchow fits Rippon's free skate to selections from Bach. The coach isn't worried about Rippon's reaction, should he miss the jump in the free skate here.

"It's been a mixed bag at home -- landed some, down on some, popped on some, turned out of some," Dungjen. "Whatever happens with the quad, the program [run-throughs] have still gone well."

Aaron, Mroz gear up their quads

2011 U.S. junior champion Max Aaron plans a quad Salchow in both his short and long programs.

"It's a big risk, but it's a big pay-off," he said. "Hopefully, I'll go out and get it done. I've tried it all year and kind of learned a lot from it. I'm finally ready. I've done it in the short, and I've done it in the long and stepped out, but perfectly clean in both programs, no.

"I think it's a big trademark, and it's huge to put it out there. I don't know how many men are going to try it in the short. It really puts it up there and separates you from the other men."

Aaron's coach, Tom Zakrajsek, who trains his skaters at Colorado Springs' World Arena, supports Aaron's ambitions.

"He's trained well with the quads, he can do it," Zakrajsek said.

Zakrajsek's other senior man, 2009 U.S. silver medalist Brandon Mroz, is most famous for landing the first-ever quad Lutz in competition this fall. (Watch the clip here.) Although he had the Lutz in both programs during his Grand Prix events -- and landed it at the NHK Trophy -- here, he plans to do a quad toe in the short, and will reserve the Lutz for his free skate to Carmen.

"I want to do it in the free," Mroz said. "But with the quad Lutz, I feel it's a give and take, so we'll see how it is going that day.

"This year, it's not just the technical aspect with the jumps, but I think personally I have tougher programs."