Abbott breezes to big lead at nationals

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Jeremy Abbott was still savoring his monster score when one fan yelled out, "You're awesome!"

That he certainly was.

Abbott's easy, breezy performance to a swing medley scored a whopping 90.23 points at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Friday night, a personal best and a mark that puts him in world champion Patrick Chan's territory. The two-time national champion leads training partner Adam Rippon by a commanding 7.29 points going into Sunday's free skate.

"It was a lot of fun," Abbott said. "I did the skate I wanted to do and I'm in the place I wanted to be."

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's 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.

But he's had a tendency to fall apart on the big stage, flopping at the 2009 world championships and again at the Vancouver Olympics. When it happened again last year when a third U.S. title was his for the taking, Abbott decided he'd had enough.

He no longer cares what anyone thinks about him, much less any nasty things that are said. He's skating for himself and his own enjoyment, concerned only with achieving the goals he's set.

The attitude adjustment is clearly working.

Abbott took the ice with a rakish grin, popping his suspenders as he skated to center ice and fixing the audience with a wink. He opened with a huge triple flip-triple toe loop combination that was silky smooth, and followed with a triple axel that coaches might want to use as an example for their students. He seemed to be dancing he was so light on his feet, and even those sitting way up in the rafters could see his newfound confidence.

Rippon and Armin Mahbanoozadeh, who was third, were the few bright spots.

Big things have been expected of Rippon since his spectacular junior career. He swept the major titles in 2008 — U.S., world and Grand Prix final — and followed it with another junior world title in 2009. But Rippon hasn't been able to duplicate that success as a senior, with fifth place his best finish at nationals.

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