Abbott leads at US Nationals

Jeremy Abbott, 23, currently leads the Men by nearly three points after the Short program.

Two-time and defending champion Evan Lysacek (DuPage FSC) drew first to skate in the short program, and got things started in grand fashion.

Skating to Ravel’s Bolero, Lysacek made quick work of a triple Axel, and immediately nailed a triple-Lutz-triple toe loop combination.

“I did a lot of training at home preparing for this event,” Lysacek said. “It came through in the places where I wanted it to. I had good levels, and those are things that we have to worry about now with the system.”

“I had a good time,” added the former and two-time Worlds bronze medalist. “The crowd was very nice and supportive.”

Lysacek performed with the certainty of a champion, executing each element with precision and proper attention to detail. And of course, Lysacek showcased his dynamic footwork with his usual pizzazz.

“I try to give the audience something to cheer about right off the bat,” said the 23-year-old. “The National Championships are very important to (Coach Frank Carroll) and me, and I try to plan everything so that I can give the best performance that I can.”

Lysacek scored 83.59 points, but his lead was brief as the next skater, Jeremy Abbott (Broadmoor SC) overtook his lead with an equally fantastic performance.

The newly-crowned Grand Prix Champion looked like a contender for the World Championship title in his short program, finishing with a personal best of 86.40 points.

“Tonight was very exciting,” gushed Abbott. “My goal all season was to improve on each competition, and I believe that I did that tonight. It was a great competition, and all of the men competed very well. It was certainly one of the best men’s short program events that I have seen.”

Abbott skated a passionate and technically demanding program to Albinoni’s Adagio, landing all of his elements with flair and a newfound confidence. Like his counterpart in the championship ladies event, Abbott has been seen as a skater with a lot of world-class ability, but none of the mental toughness to see it through.

“Well, I certainly consider myself a bit of a head case still,” admitted the 23-year-old. “I just have adjusted the skating part of it. I feel like I am just really coming into my own this year, and I really matured as a person. I’m really starting to understand what everyone around me is saying, and I’m taking in what they are saying and using it in a way that I can understand it.”

Last year’s pewter medalist opened with a triple flip-triple toe loop combination, and followed that up with an easy triple Axel. Abbott put a stamp on his program with a clean-as-a-whistle triple Lutz, and his footwork sequences were a work of art.

“I hope that I can continue on the track that I am on,” Abbott shared. “I have a great support team around me, and it is with their help that has allowed me to stay on track.”

The disappointment of the night came in the form of former champion Johnny Weir (SC of New York), who has been trying to return to full strength after a bout of food poisoning over the holidays.

Weir started his program in his usual dramatic fashion, and landed a textbook triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination. On his next move, an intended triple Axel, Weir made his costliest short program error.

“The performance today was obviously a huge disappointment to me,” Weir said. “Popping a triple Axel is not a mistake that I have made in many years. This is the first time that I haven’t skated a clean short program in a national championships since 2001.”

“I attribute that to just trying to come back after a very bad November and December,” Weir continued. “I lost a lot of weight, had to take my costume in, and when you aren’t feeling as a person, it is hard to feel strong in front of all of these people and television cameras. I made a big mistake, and that is the bottom line for the day.”

The reigning Worlds bronze medalist finished in a shocking seventh place, and will be skating in the penultimate group in the free skate for the first time in his career.

“I am going to try to kick some A,” joked the 24-year-old. “I am down far enough in the standings that I have no pressure, and I feel like I can do that. I am well trained, and I believe that I can do that.”

Weir’s total of 70.76 points was his lowest since the New Judging System has been implemented at the U.S. Championships.

Finishing in a surprise third was the 2001 U.S. Junior Champ Parker Pennington (Winterhurst FSC) with what he describes as the performance of his career.

“It’s been a hard road the past few years,” Pennington shared. “Coming back to Cleveland and to Carol Heiss-Jenkins has been very good for me. She, along with Roberta Mitchell, has been great, and I think now I am finally beginning to believe in my capabilities. I think that is what really showed out there today.”

The hometown favorite looked solid from the start as he landed a beautiful triple Axel to open his Flamenco-themed program. As the crowd’s response started to build, so did the 24-year-old’s enthusiasm. At the end of the program when Pennington pumped his fist in celebration, the audience jumped to their feet.

“This was absolutely incredible,” said Pennington. “To be able to go out there and give my best performance in front of my hometown crowd, you know I just couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

Pennington scored a personal best of 76.17 points to propel him to his best finish in the short program at Nationals.

In fourth place is another surprise in the form of Brandon Mroz (Broadmoor SC), who is making his debut on the championship level at this event.

“For the first time out in senior, I had a little bit of doubts,” the 18-year-old confessed. “But I have trained this program over and over, so I just dug deep and everything worked out.”

Mroz was clean on all of his jumps, landing a nice triple Axel, a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, and a triple flip that propelled him into the spotlight.

“I have the ammunition to compete with this field, and my goal was to be in the top four,” said last year’s Junior silver medalist. “Hopefully I can keep that goal alive, and hit it hard in the long.”

Mroz’s total of 74.88 points edged out training mate Ryan Bradley (Broadmoor SC), who is currently in fifth.

Bradley opened his Elvis Presley routine with a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination, and followed that up with a nice triple Axel. The 2007 silver medalist was struggling with both of these elements in the warm-up.

“I struggled with two jumps today; the quad and the Axel,” said an excited Bradley. “It was great for me to overcome those struggles and be successful on those elements.”

Bradley then made a silly mistake and doubled an intended triple Lutz.

“I did all of the hard stuff, but I just learned my triple Lutz twelve years ago,” mused the jokester. “It’s just one of those things that just happens, and it happened to me today. It is costing me big time right now. That’s all right because I have a big program coming up in the long.”

The always-entertaining Bradley used the strength of his technical successes to overcome the mistake, but was also disappointed to learn that he had received a level one on both his camel spin and straight-line steps.

“At one point during my footwork, I saw the caller out of the corner of my eye, and he made a gesture that made me think that I was not doing enough to get the levels,” the 25-year-old explained sheepishly. “My coaches are not going to be happy about this!”

Bradley did skate well enough to earn a total of 74.05 points, a new personal best for him.

In sixth place is lesser known skater Curran Oi (SC of Boston) who finished sixth at the junior level last season. Skating to music from Phantom of the Opera, Oi had the program of his life, landing a triple Axel, as well as a nifty triple flip-triple toe loop combination.”

“This is how I expected to skate,” said Oi matter-of-factly. “I skate like this all the time at home, but what is surprising is the placement. I am excited to be up so high.”

The 18-year-old also landed a clean triple Lutz, and earned high levels on all of his other elements to just edge out Weir for the last spot in the final warm-up of the freeskate. His total of 72.76 points is a new personal best.

Reigning bronze medalist Steven Carriere (SC of Boston) struggled in his short program to a symphonic version of Metallica music. The 2007 World Junior Champion opened with a step out of his triple Axel, and then repeated the mistake on the back half of his triple-flip-triple toe loop combination.

Still, the 19-year-old was entertaining and smooth as he checked off the rest of his required elements. For his efforts, Carriere earned a total of 69.36 points, good enough for eighth place.

Rounding out the top ten are Dennis Phan (All Year FSC) and Shaun Rogers (University of Delaware FSC) in ninth and 10th, respectively.

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