Ice Skating

Abbott no longer cares what the critics think

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP)

(Eds: Updates with details, quotes. Stands for early lead to BC-FIG--US Championships)By NANCY ARMOURAP National Writer

Jeremy Abbott no longer cares what anyone thinks.

The two-time U.S. figure skating champion has been called a head case, a disappointment and all kinds of other not-so-nice things. For years, he let it all get to him. But after a performance at last year's U.S. Figure Skating Championships that was so dismal it cost him a spot on the world championships team, Abbott decided he was done worrying about what everyone else thought.

''I was just like, (forget) it all. I'm just going to do something that makes me happy, because I've worked so hard to please other people. Clearly, you can't always do that,'' he said Thursday. ''At the end of the day, I just want to get off the ice and feel good about myself and my performance. People can say what they want - and they have said whatever they want, everything that they want. But this year, when I've gotten off the ice, every time, mistakes or not, I just felt great, really happy.''

Abbott is the heavy favorite in the men's competition, which begins Friday with the short program.

Abbott is one of the most technically sound skaters in the world, with beautiful edges that carve the ice like a master craftsman and perfect body control. He is also one of the few skaters who has managed to maintain the balance between the performance quality that makes figure skating so entertaining and the tough physical tricks the system now demands. He takes an active role in choreographing his programs, and the unique style makes him stand out when so many men's programs have a similar look.

Despite all that, Abbott never has been able to make the spotlight this own. Even winning national titles in 2009 and 2010 couldn't make him a star.

Abbott had the misfortune of spending most of his senior career competing against Olympic champion Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir, two oversized personalities whose rivalry left little room for anyone else. But Abbott didn't help matters with his tendency to fall apart on the biggest stages. He flopped at both the 2009 world championships and again at the Vancouver Olympics.

Even last year, when he should have had all the attention to himself without Lysacek and Weir around, he couldn't hold it together. Boot problems, which he'd struggled with all year, played a big role in his collapse.

''It didn't allow me to train basically,'' he said. ''It really cut down my confidence, and I really didn't go into any competition feeling prepared. I was just trying to keep my head above water the whole year.''

But no one wanted to hear it.

So Abbott decided he was done listening, too.

''I get `head case.' I get this, I get that. You know what? You all have never been in my shoes. You've never been performing in front of thousands of people; you don't know what it's like,'' he said, a touch of defiance in his voice. ''For me, this season is just about doing things that make me happy. I'm really focused, and I'm working hard. It's about my goals and what I want. It's not about proving anything to anybody.''

Added Yuka Sato, who coaches Abbott with her husband, Jason Dungjen. ''I think Jeremy's season started the day we returned from last year's nationals. There has been a lot of ups and downs and soul-searching and down times, difficult times. I think he found himself.''

The difference is noticeable. The best athletes possess a confidence that borders on cockiness, and Abbott now has it. Asked who should be considered the favorite at nationals, he quickly replied, ''Me. Absolutely,'' and then proceeded to list the reasons why. He won Cup of China and was third at the Rostelecom Cup, making him the only American man to qualify for the Grand Prix final.

When asked if he can catch world champion Patrick Chan, who has dominated the competition the past year, Abbott didn't hesitate.

''I certainly think that I can, and I think that I'm at Patrick's level. If I skate two clean programs, I'm at the same level,'' he said. ''A couple of years ago, I definitely used to go into competitions like, `Oh my God, these people are monsters, and they're unbeatable.'' ... Now I go into competitions thinking that I can win if I do my job. If I skate two clean programs and I do my job, I definitely think I can win.''

And if others don't? Well, Abbott doesn't much care.

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Follow Nancy Armour at http://www.twitter.com/nrarmour.


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