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Abbott beats record, homers with swinging short

DSC training partner Rippon sits second, but silver still up for grabs

Jeremy Abbott looks well on his way to a third national title after a superb short program.
Jeremy Abbott looks well on his way to a third national title after a superb short program. (Tom Briglia)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/28/2012) - Friday night, Jeremy Abbott swung for the fences and hit the ball out of the park.

The 27-year-old's swing dance short program was snappy, sassy and just plain sensational, earning a U.S. record 90.23 points and bringing the HP Pavilion crowd to its feet before his final pose at the U.S. Championships.

"When I went out there, I told myself, 'let's put on a show, let's make these people have fun,'" Abbott said. "It's always fun to skate clean, but to skate clean and have the audience behind you, clapping and cheering, makes it that much more enjoyable."

From the first note of "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen" to the final crescendo of Benny Goodman, Abbott was spot on, nailing his jumps, including a triple flip-triple toe combination; triple Axel; and triple Lutz, a jump that troubled him last season.

If the Aspen-born skater's jumps were triples, his footwork sequences were home runs, driving every beat of the music home.

"I'm happy with what I'm producing, and to see a score of 90, it's huge," Abbott said. "It's not Patrick Chan points at Canadians, but [it's] Patrick Chan points at normal international competitions."

Chan, the world champion, racked up an unheard-of 302.14 points at his recent nationals. After his stellar outing Friday night, Abbott has just over 210 points to go.

"He loves to perform to both of his programs this year," said Yuka Sato, who with husband Jason Dungjen coaches Abbott at the Detroit Skating Club (DSC). "Once the music goes on, he really gets into the character of his performance.

"I think he's a very, very special performer who also has the technical skill to make the performance a whole," she said, "And I really think his quality is special."

Last season's boot problems, disappointing fourth-place U.S. finish and subsequent loss of a U.S. world team spot just made the program all the more sweeter.

"I'm actually thankful with the way things happened," Abbott said. "I had more time to make sure everything was in place for the season with my programs, my boots and my training.

"Yuka and Jason and I really made a solid plan this season and we've been sticking very hard to it. I've been building confidence with each competition and just slowly chugging forward and upwards. I just kind of feel like the 'little engine that could' at this point."

Just 6.93 points separate the next five skaters.

Abbott's training partner, Adam Rippon, shook off a disappointing 2010-11 season and tumultuous coaching change last summer to skate the finest short program of his career. He earned 82.94 points for a relaxed and confident routine to the Russian folk dance "Korobushka."

Rippon sailed through his opening triple flip-triple toe and, after a rather lengthy lead-in, nailed his triple Axel. He picked up the pace with some sprightly steps and sealed the deal with his glorious trademark "Rippon" triple Lutz, done with both arms over his head.

"I'm really satisfied with what I could do today," Rippon said. "It's exactly the way I've been training, and I think I had a real turn around after the Grand Prixs because I was able to go home, refocus and really concentrate on fixing up my [triple Axel] technique and it's paid off ten-fold."

Rippon, who like Abbott had a disappointing result at the 2011 U.S. Championships, said tonight was a "come to Jesus" moment for him.

"I said to myself, 'I have to go out there and fight for my career and not just against other skaters, but for myself,'" he said. "I needed to do this to get myself some confidence again, and I'm just really proud of myself."

Rippon decided to leave Toronto and coach Brian Orser last spring and made the call to Sato and Dungjen. At first, Abbott wasn't too thrilled with the idea of sharing DSC ice with a top competitor.

"We [told Jeremy] that Adam was very, very interested in coming to train with us," Sato said. "And I think at the beginning he had mixed feelings about it. But we talked about it [and said] we can make this as ugly as we can, or we can make it a positive experience. Bottom line is they are good friends and they really get along."

Now, the two skaters would not have it any other way.

"He's been a great training mate and he's been working really hard," Abbott said of Rippon. "He wants it really bad. I really do think this is his year to break through and I really hope that he continues it for the free skate as well as me. I would love to see both of us on the team. I would love that for me and Adam and our coaches."

A recent coaching change and move to Colorado Springs seems to be paying dividends for Armin Mahbanoozadeh, who skated a clean, crisp program to Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" that included a brilliant triple flip-triple toe combination and triple Axel, as well as four Level 4 elements. He sits third with 80.66 points.

"I had to skate right after an amazing performance (Abbott) and I told myself, 'You've just got to use that energy,' and stay in the moment," Mahbanoozadeh said. "Christy [Krall], my coach, told me to just take one thing at a time and be patient with all of the elements.

"I felt like after a season where the training wasn't consistent, I owed it to myself to finish the season as strong as I could, and I made the move I thought would be that choice. I thought I've had a great five weeks in Colorado and I think it's paid off."

Mahbanoozadeh, who will include a quad toe in his free skate, says he plans to keep training in Colorado after season's end.

Defending U.S. bronze medalist Ross Miner had a fluid and stylish Latin-themed program, highlighted by a solid triple Axel and entertaining steps, although he turned out of the second jump in his triple Lutz-triple toe combination. The Boston-based skater is fourth with 78.90 points.

"My goal for this competition is to do my job," Miner said. "It could have been a little better on the Lutz-toe, but I'm proud of myself for fighting for it. I didn't put a good landing on the Lutz and I had to work a little harder after that."

Max Aaron landed the only quad of the night, a Salchow. He also landed a fine triple Axel, although he brushed the ice with his hand landing the first jump of his triple Lutz-triple toe combination. The Colorado Springs skater sits fifth with 76.01 points.

Alaskan Keegan Messing delivered a fast, attention-grabbing skate to music from Robin Hood that included a solid triple Axel, crisp spins and expressive steps. The skater waved the Land of the Midnight Sun's flag in the kiss and cry and earned 76.66 points for sixth place.

Defending U.S. silver medalist Richard Dornbush had a disappointing program to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, falling on his opening triple Lutz and popping two other jumps into singles. He placed 17th.