The most surprising thing about Jeremy Abbott’s profane outburst after the men’s figure skating final at the Sochi Olympics was there had never seemed to be an edge about Abbott until he went over it.
The four-time U.S. champion’s off-ice demeanor always appeared as calm and polished as he looked on the ice in his best performances.
At the 2010 nationals, Abbott’s free skate was a tour de force that turned an expected close competition into a rout, and his overall skating would easily have been good enough to win an Olympic medal.
At the 2012 U.S. Championships, Abbott won his third national title in four years with a brilliant free skate, full of subtly intricate movements.
In the short program at the 2009 nationals, Abbott had given first evidence of what a wondrous skater he could be. In January, at age 28, after nearly two seasons of mediocrity, he won nationals again with a short program recalling that once dazzling ability.
He would win both the short program and free skate at nationals in all but one of his championship seasons.
But Abbott’s inability to approach that level of excellence in a global championship — Olympics or worlds — would be the storyline of a competitive career that is to end with this week’s World Championships in Saitama, Japan.
He skated poorly at last month’s Sochi Olympics. Abbott fell in the short programs of the team event, finishing a distant seventh of 10, and the individual event (15th of 29). He wound up 12th in the individual event, the worst finish by the reigning U.S. men’s champion at the Winter Games since 1936.
That followed a ninth at the 2010 Olympics and finishes of 11th, 11th, fifth and ninth at the worlds. Abbott managed the fifth in 2010, when four of those who finished ahead of him at the Olympics were absent from worlds.
Abbott goes into Friday’s free skate at the current worlds in eighth place, more than 11 points from third, after having fallen on the opening quadruple jump of a short program Wednesday for the third straight time. The other two were at the Olympics.
Such a championship record — great at home, ordinary at best on the road — spurred the inevitable question to Abbott in Sochi about why he consistently fell apart under the pressure of major international competitions. The word “choke” was mentioned.
His answer, as reported widely, was a spirited defense with an element of nonsense.
“I just want to put my middle finger in the air and say a big F-you to anyone who’s ever said that to me because they’ve never stood in my shoes and they’ve never had to do what I do,” Abbott said.
“Nobody has to stand center ice in front of a million people and put an entire career on the line for eight minutes of their life when they’ve been doing it for 20-some years. If you think that’s not hard, then you’re a damn idiot.
“Some people can handle it better than others, but everyone has that mental struggle. Everyone goes through the same doubt. I’m not alone.
“I’m frickin' proud of what I’ve done, and I’m not going to apologize for anything.”
A lot of other U.S. champions have stood where Abbott did at the Olympics and worlds and skated brilliantly. Of course that is hard. But few of those champions underperformed on the biggest stages as badly as Abbott did.
That is a simple matter of fact.
Abbott deservedly got a lot of credit for getting up and continuing after an extremely hard fall on his first jump in the individualshort program at Sochi.
The hard and ironic truth is Abbott earned that praise because he had fallen when it counted most.
The good thing about Abbott’s answer was it showed a fire that was sadly lacking after his flop in the team event short program. He had rationalized that by saying, "I am torn up I didn't do (well) for the team, but for me this was a positive step. You're going to think I'm crazy because I fell on my butt and did a horrible program. I had my Olympic disaster and now I can move on.”
At this week’s worlds, Abbott is in a field without the new Olympic silver and bronze medalists and two others from the top nine. He should be able to move up before he moves on, if his pride hasn’t come before another fall.
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