Kwan: Abbott shows you can teach an old dog new tricks

Jeremy Abbott will retire after these Olympics. So far, it looks like he may go out on top.

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Jeremy Abbott had been having nightmares about his Nationals short program.

But on Friday he woke up and realized it was his moment to shine.

In his final appearance at the national championships before walking away from the sport, Abbott delivered perhaps the greatest performance of his career – earning a record score of 99.86 – to edge a surprising Richard Dornbush (92.04) to lead the 2014 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

“That’s pretty fantastic, I heard people behind me chanting ‘100!’ and 99.86 is pretty darn close,” Abbott said. “Considering my previous high was 90, I’m pretty darn happy.

“I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.”

Compared to the old scoring system, Abbott’s performance Friday night was as close as you can get to a “6.0.”

Some may argue that the scoring was inflated, but forget the score. What the judges gave Abbott reflects how he skated with conviction and with an “I believe in myself” approach that has been missing for some time.

He started with the toughest element – the quad toe loop and triple toe loop combination – and landed it with ease. That helped Abbott get his feet under him and it continued throughout the program.

His following elements were solid and crisp, without a hint of hesitation.

There’s an old saying in figure skating that you can’t win a championship with your short program, but you can lose it!  When I competed, especially at Nationals, I was far more nervous in my short program than my long.  So I can relate to the recurring nightmares that Jeremy experienced, as have many other skaters. Conquering the short program like Jeremy did is a major accomplishment in itself.

What Jeremy has been hearing these past four years since his disappointing ninth-place at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics is that he’s past his prime and is his own worst enemy. He spoke about revamping his program ever since 2012, and tonight showed that he’s stronger than anticipated. Many people haven’t seen him “putting the cogs in place” as he put it, making sure that no detail was too small to overlook.

“I was having nightmares coming into this event – and only about the short program,” Abbott said. “Every time I was in seventh place and too far out to make the Olympics. I would wake up crying and just horrified every single night for the last three weeks. I was having this dream where I imploded in the short program.

“We made a very strong, strategic plan and we’ve just been working slow and steady at it and we’ve been seeing the progress even though sometimes the audience hasn’t. At home we see it, and I see it mentally and physically every day.  When things didn’t work in competitions, I believed in what we had done and I just kept plugging at it and it paid off tonight.”

Although tonight is only a third of the final result in the U.S. Championships, getting past this hurdle is the beginning of new dreams.

“So I got that out of the way (laughs) and now I can move on and my free program is much more comfortable. The whole goal here was get the business done, get the job done and move on to Sochi – that’s still the goal.

“My foot’s not on the plane (to Sochi) yet. I have a good score, but I still have 4:40 to go. I have eight jumping passes, 13 jumps, three spins and two footworks. I’m really a third of the way there. I have maybe a toe over the threshold of the jetway, I still have a job to do and like I said here it’s about business.”

Nobody needs to remind him that he has a long way to go – but this skate is something he’ll remember forever and something that can give him peace of mind as he goes to bed tonight and begins to dream about what’s ahead – the free skate Sunday afternoon that will determine who represents Team USA in Sochi.