Weir and Lysacek Find Company at the Top
When the final note of his music stopped and his short program on Friday was finally over, Jeremy Abbott knew that he had just crashed the party at the United States Figure Skating National Championships. It was exactly what he came here to do, the New York Times reported.
For the last five years, either Evan Lysacek or Johnny Weir had won the men's title at nationals. Lysacek is the two-time defending champion, while Weir won the previous three titles.
But with a nearly flawless performance, which included a triple axel in which he seemed to snub gravity, Abbott butted into what Weir has called the annual "Evan and Johnny Show" - just in time for next year's Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Abbott, a 23-year-old from Colorado Springs, finished first in the short program Friday, with a score of 86.40. Lysacek was second with 83.59. Parker Pennington was third, with 76.17. Weir, who missed a jump in his program, was seventh with a score of 70.76. The free skate is Sunday.
"I feel like the national championships is always a little bit about Evan and Johnny," Abbott said after his performance, during which he wore a royal blue outfit with puffy sleeves and velvet pants. "My goal was to do the best that I could and maybe break through that."
And break through that Abbott did, leaving the crowd breathless as he danced across the ice. His spins were tight and quick, like a spool of thread unraveling. His jumps looked effortless.
In appreciation, the crowd leapt to its feet when Abbott was done. He leaned his head back and exhaled.
Just one skater before, Lysacek had received only a partial standing ovation. He had performed to "Bolero" by Ravel, wearing a black outfit with a red sequined cross on the chest and a black and tan sparkly cross on the back.
"Jeremy outskated him right after he skated well," Abbott's coach, Tom Zakrajsek, said of Abbott's short program after Lysacek's strong performance. He added that Abbott has had Friday's magical performance in him all along, although Abbott had managed only back-to-back fourth-place finishes at nationals in the past.
"He hasn't really changed," Zakrajsek said. "I think everyone else is just starting to see who he is."
Conversely, when Lysacek skated, the crowd knew exactly who he was. A two-time bronze medalist at worlds, Lysacek finished fourth at the 2006 Turin Olympics, moving to that spot after a spectacular free skate performance.
He is hoping his free skate on Sunday will be just as spectacular, although he conceded that it would not be a simple task.
"Defending this title is probably the most difficult thing I go through in a season," said Lysacek, before attempting to describe the meaning of his outfit and its crosses.
"It's kind of an interesting story," he said. "There's a movie that uses 'Bolero.' It's a Spanish movie. I don't know what it's called. I didn't see it. It's about a woman who becomes a nun and then she goes to a monastery with all of these monks. It's kind of inappropriate story how things evolved. The music is from the movie."
At Skate America last year, he gave a simpler answer, saying his choreographer "just likes crosses."
Weir, who often chooses flamboyant outfits, on Friday wore an outfit with one teal arm and one purplish-pink arm. He came prepared to win this title, particularly after losing to Lysacek in a tie breaker last year. But in his short program, he popped a triple axel, which marred his final score.
He said it was the first time since 2001 that he had messed up a short program at nationals.
"I can't wait to go back to the locker room or the hotel and sit in the shower and just cry for an hour," he said, adding that his confidence was at about a 5 out of 10. "When I put on a new face and redo my hair, I'll feel about a 9 or 10 again."
Usually at nationals, it is Weir's elegance and beauty versus Lysacek's energy and athleticism.
But this time, Abbott joined the mix.
He said he came to nationals nervous and filled with pressure after winning the International Skating Union's Grand Prix Final in December. Lysacek did not qualify for that event. Weir was third.
Abbott's final score, 237.72, at that event was at least 4 points higher than the personal bests of Lysacek and Weir.
"I'm dreaming big and imagining my future as big as I possibly can imagine it," he said. "If that puts me in the likes of Olympic champions, that's what I'm aiming for."