Steak Bites: Abbott escapes from no-spin zone

Dornbush gets into character; Aaron pumped to lead off short

Jeremy Abbott has had to re-do one of his spins on the fly in Omaha.
Jeremy Abbott has had to re-do one of his spins on the fly in Omaha. (Getty Images)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(01/25/2013) - After his first practice in Omaha on Thursday, Jeremy Abbott got a bit of a shock.

"I found out today that one of my spins doesn't count; it's a level zero," Abbott said. "We have to change the spins in both of my programs, because it was the same [in both]."

The three-time U.S. champion's tale of the spin zone -- complete with flying camels, sit spins, foot changes and uprights -- shows just how hard it is for even a top skater and coach, in this case Yuka Sato, to keep pace with the complex and ever-changing international judging system (IJS) rules.

"During the Grand Prix season, I wasn't getting the levels on my spins," Abbott said. "I was doing the camel-change-camel, and I'm not very flexible, because I've had tons of back issues, and so I was getting Level 2, which is not acceptable."

When Abbott and Sato got down to training at the Detroit Skating Club, their first thought was swap out the spin and to repeat two of the skater's spins from last season, including a flying upright and a sit-change-sit spin.

"But a lot of people don't like the flying upright spin, so we decided to do a change-foot upright spin, which was actually very nice," Abbott said.

That's where things went awry.

"The rules say I can't do a change-foot upright spin," he said. "The change-foot spin has to be in either a camel or a sit spin position. We didn't realize that until today."

Luckily, a sharp-eyed IJS rules aficionado spotted the problem during Abbott's run-through at his first practice on Thursday. So, Abbott is back to doing the flying upright and sit-change-sit.

"It will be the same spins I did last year," Abbott said. "It's a little bit of a mess, but I think it's an easy fix."

In the lead-up to the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Abbott made it clear he would not try a quad in his short, opting instead for a clean program including a triple-triple combination. But he certainly could not afford to lose a spin.

"I'm very grateful, because if I had gotten a zero on my spin, that would have knocked me down a few pegs," he said. "I'm really glad that somebody was kind enough and had the foresight to say something, because I could have gone out and done a clean program and still have been fifth, after losing four or five points."

Dornbush gets into character, again

The men's short on Friday starts with a bang, with Max Aaron, Joshua Farris, Richard Dornbush and Jason Brown leading things off in the first warm-up.

And that suits Dornbush just fine.

"At the end of the day, we're all out there for just three minutes, and whether that's the first three minutes or the last three minutes, I just want it to be the best three minutes that they see," the 21-year-old skater said.

Dornbush won the 2011 U.S. silver medal and placed a respectable ninth at worlds that seaosn. He fell to 13th place in the U.S. last season, but this season, he thinks he's peaking at the right time.

He opened his international campaign with a silver medal at Finlandia Trophy, where he defeated Spain's Javier Fernández. After that, a right ankle injury limited him a bit. Still, he took fifth at Japan's NHK Trophy and sixth at Russia's Rostelecom Cup, where he landed a quad toe in his free skate.

"After my first international in Finland, I was doing really well, and I was right where I wanted to be," Dornbush said. "Unfortunately, I suffered an injury just before Russia and Japan, and I think that really held me back.

"After that, I took two weeks off the ice completely and focused on rehabilitating my ankle. I think I have come back up to peak level just in a nick of time, and I feel really strong. This week I am focusing on one program at a time, planning the quad in both programs."

Tammy Gambill, who coaches the skater in Riverside, Calif., also thinks Dornbush is back on track.

"We had time to take a break and make the rehabilitation," Gambill said. "He still did really well with the injury, and my main thing was keeping him focused and in the moment. I was really proud he was as strong as he was with the injury. He has a lot of heart."

Dornbush won U.S. silver by portraying Sherlock Holmes in his free skate. He performed a "Spaghetti Western"-style free last season, and this season has once again turned to a Cindy Stuart-created, character-driven program.

In Omaha, he will skate to noir-ish music including "Harlem Nocturne," playing the part of an L.A. movie detective.

"A lot of skaters have turned to character-driven pieces; Javier has one this year ("Chaplin")" he said. "There are pros and cons; if you skate really well and do the jumps, the character really comes to life, but I think when you mess up the program a lot, it can ruin a character-driven program more than another program. If you have a classical piece, the shock doesn't take you out of the program as much."

Gambill is having quite a week. Her students, Vincent Zhou and Shotaro Omori, took gold and silver in junior men's. Two other students placed one-two in novice ladies. In addition to Dornbush, she coaches Philip Warren and Sean Rabbitt, who will compete in seniors.

"They are all one big family. They have their good days and bad days; they cheer each other on," Gambill said. "Ricky will pick some kids up and give them a little pep talk when they are having a bad day. They all admire him and his work ethic."

Aaron wants to set the standard

Like Dornbush, Aaron has no problem with his draw.

"It's a great group of men, and I love going first," Aaron said. "It's a bummer in that the [judging panel] can mark you low, but with the new judging system, they don't have to. I'm looking at the positives of it. I get to set the mark high and set the tone a little bit. I get my warm-up, get my jumps done, go catch my breath and I'm good to go."

North to Alaska is warmer than it is here

Keegan Messing arrives in Omaha after a solid fall. The 21-year-old didn't compete at a Grand Prix event, but he made good at two international "B" competitions, winning bronze at Nebelhorn Trophy and gold at the Cup of Nice.

Messing's coach, former Austrian champion Ralph Burghart -- who trains the skater in Anchorage -- just hopes his student can adjust to the single-digit climate.

"It's 39 degrees in Alaska, and it's 30 degrees colder here," Burghart said. "I can't believe it."

Burghart said that no matter the temperature, his skater will go for broke.

"His quad [toe] is getting better and better, knock wood," the coach said. "It will definitely be in both of his programs. We always compare ourselves to the leading men in the world, and they are doing quads, so if we want to compete there, he has to do them."