Abbott goes 007, not worried about Lysacek, Weir

More 'manly' Rippon likes new hair, makes 'Nessun Dorma' his short

Jeremy Abbott, shown here at Champs Camp, is not stressing himself about the competition.
Jeremy Abbott, shown here at Champs Camp, is not stressing himself about the competition. (Renee Felton)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(08/24/2012) - He may have taken longer than usual to decide on this season's programs, but Jeremy Abbott thinks his new routines have the stuff to bring it home.

"After worlds, we had the World Team Trophy in Japan, and then I did Stars on Ice in Canada, so that was a month and a half-ish," the three-time U.S. champion said. "Then, finally, I took a vacation. After that, I tried to nail down which choreographers I wanted to use and when they had availability. And then I did Mao [Asada's] show in Japan, which was two weeks."

Abbott emphasized that his show commitments not only help pay for his training, but improve his skating.

"All the shows I've gotten to do have boosted my performance ability a lot, especially when I work with great skaters like Kurt [Browning] and Jeff [Buttle]," he said.

His respect for Browning is so great, it moved him to ask the four-time Canadian world champion to choreograph his new short.

"He told me flat out he doesn't do competitive programs anymore," Abbott said. "I had picked a piece of music I knew he loved and said, 'If I do this, I would only want you to [choreograph] it.' He said, 'I love your skating and I love you as a performer, but I said no to everyone who asked me and it wouldn't be right to say yes now.' So if he couldn't do it, I didn't want to do [the music]."

Abbott then turned to Benji Schwimmer, the second-season winner of So You Think You Can Dance, who choreographed Abbott's exuberant big band short last season. Schwimmer wasn't available until earlier this month, so a few weeks ago, the two reserved late-night ice at Abbott's training home, the Detroit Skating Club, and created a new short set to Nathan Lanier's "Spy."

"It's very James Bond-esque, maybe a little more modern and a little more fun," Abbott said. "I had a blast [working with Schwimmer] last year and a good time this year, and I think the program will be great. I need a few more touch-ups; I need to see [Benji] a few more times."

The skater was on the fence about his free skate; since he was getting a new short, he contemplated using his "Exogenesis" by Muse program another season. Then, his coach, Yuka Sato, had an idea: What about "Bring Him Home," one of the show-stoppers from Les Miserables?

"At first I said no," he said. "But she was like, 'I have wanted to do this for someone for a long time. I really feel it's such an emotional story, and no one has brought it out lately.'"

So, they turned to New York-based composer and music director Steven Jamail to create a version especially suited to a free skate.

"He did a fantastic job with it," Abbott said. "But, of course, it took some time, so we actually didn't get started [choreographing] until last week. We put it together in four days so we would have a very rough draft to show here. The biggest feedback I'll get will probably be on levels [of spins and footwork]. I already know that when I get back, we're going to rework the long."

Gaining high program components scores isn't Abbott's great challenge; judges reward his intricate choreography and skating skills. Pacing his routines proved more difficult.

"I have to make sure I have enough time to rest and recover from each element," he said. "I have good technique and I can do all the jumps. I really want to make sure -- not just physically, but mentally, too -- I have time to relax and regroup."

After spectacular programs at the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Abbott lost momentum when he added a quad toe to his short for his two final competitions. He faltered on the jump, placing ninth in the short at the 2012 World Championships, and eighth overall. This season, he hopes to have the quad in both of his programs from the start.

"That's what we're planning," he said. "Last year, we wanted to put it in later and it was never right. I kind of wanted to make a statement that the [2010-11] season was a fluke, and I wanted to do clean programs. (Boot issues contributed to Abbott's fourth-place finish at the 2011 U.S. Championships.)

"This year, the thinking is more long term. I'm going out on the Grand Prix (including Skate America) and doing the quad, and if it happens, it happens. I'm [looking] more towards nationals and worlds."

One, or rather two, factors that won't influence his approach: the competitive returns of Olympic champion Evan Lysacek and fellow three-time U.S. champion Johnny Weir.

"It's just one, or I guess if they both come back, two more people to contend with," Abbott said. "Our [U.S.] men haven't been shy on talent. I don't think it's going to be any harder or easier to maintain my spot than it has been in other years.

"They bring a certain amount of celebrity with them, and no matter what they do, they are going to garner the most attention. You know what, that's fine. I'm working hard and I'd rather let my skating speak for itself. I don't need the media circus, I don't need the spotlight. Hopefully, I do my best and that gets me my attention."

Most everyone who hadn't yet seen Adam Rippon this summer greeted the U.S. silver medalist at Champs Camp the same way: "Love the hair."

Gone is the curly mop of yesteryear, replaced by a modern, cropped style.

"He wanted to make a change, and he asked me, 'What do you think of me cutting my hair?'" Jason Dungjen, Rippon's coach, said. "I said, 'It's your hair; do what you want. If you don't like it, it will grow back.' I think it gives him a much more mature look."

Rippon's free, choreographed by five-time U.S. ice dance champion Michael Seibert to music from The Incredibles, has been in the works for several months. His short, to 'Nessun Dorma,' is far newer.

"I really liked working with Michael on the free skate and asked him if he would come back and do my short," Rippon said. "My free skate is such a departure from what I usually skate to, he decided it would be best if I did something he knew I could do really well, and he brought up "Nessun Dorma."

"I had a little hesitation. I love the music, but it's been done many times. He said, 'Look to see who has done it as a short program,' and there weren't many. So we did it, and I love it."

Like training partner Abbott, Rippon hopes to put a quad, most likely the Salchow, in his short, and one or two quads in his free. The difference is, unlike Abbott, he has yet to land a four-revolution jump in competition.

"The Salchow is the quad I've been really training this summer, and it's gotten a lot better," Rippon said. "I'm feeling more confident with it. Doing it on the Grand Prix is definitely my goal, but it all depends on what is going to get me the most amount of points."

"We're hoping to get it out at Cup of China," Dungjen said. "For [Champs Camp], obviously you're a mile up [in Colorado Springs] and training has just kind of started. Our goal here is to just do the first couple of jumps and then whatever stamina dictates to the end, and get feedback on the spins and whether we are within the rules. We can think one thing and, obviously, if we have three ISU callers saying, 'You need to change that,' then we need to change it."

Seibert pushed for another big appearance change, prodding Rippon to hit the gym and add some muscle.

"His criticism was really constructive," Rippon said. "He told me, 'If you want to be taken more seriously, you need to look like a man out there.' So I cut all my hair off, went to the gym, and here I am."

The iron-pumping sessions have helped add spring to his jumps.

"The only issue is, I sometimes try a little too hard and forget it's a lot easier for me to do the jumps," he said. "I'm definitely growing into my man body; I'm definitely in it to win it."

Ross Miner's short at Champs Camp marked a major milestone: the U.S. bronze medalist landed a quad Salchow, a jump he had yet to hit in competition.

"I've landed it every single day since Liberty [in July]. It's getting consistent, and I was able to land it here," he said. "I've done it in an official setting. It's a monkey off of my back to be able to say, 'I've done it; now I know I can do it when I need to.' I'll go back home and get more and more numbers on it."