Teenager Jason Brown of the USA was pleased and smiling Friday night after a ninth-place finish in his Olympic figure skating debut. But for his veteran teammate, Jeremy Abbott, one question struck a nerve after he placed 12th.
Abbott is a four-time U.S. champion. He placed ninth at the 2010 Olympics. He was 11th at both the 2008 and 2009 world championships. After battling through his free skate with a hip injury sustained on a fall the night before, he basically was asked what he would say to people who say he has a pattern of falling apart at big international events. He also fell in the team competition last week.
“You know, I just want to put my middle finger in the air and say a big, ‘F-U,’ to everyone who’s ever said that to me,” Abbott told media in the interview area, according to a tape recording of the exchange. “Because they’ve never stood in my shoes, and they’ve never had to do what I had to do. 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.
“And if you think that’s not hard, then you’re a damn idiot. So some people can handle it better than others, but everyone has that mental struggle. And everyone goes through the same doubt and the same thing. I’m not alone, and everyone has their highs and their lows and they just come at different moments. Some people have their moment at the Olympics, and some people have theirs at national championships.”
Abbott, 28, skated a clean program in the free skate, despite a hip injury sustained the night before when he crashed into the padded wall after falling on an attempted quadruple jump in the short program to place 15th. In the free skate, he made a split-second decision to go for a triple instead of the opening quad and posted a score of 160.12 and 232.70 overall.
“When I woke up this morning, I had a lot more pain than there was last night,” Abbott said. “Basically, I’m bruised from my hips to my ribs and the muscles and in my right glute (backside) and my hip, all the way up to my ribs to my shoulder were all seized up.”
He said his first instinct was to go out and try the opening quad “even if I fell down.” But before he went out to skate, he got some words from his coaches, Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen.
“Yuka and Jason said, ‘Just be smart, do what you can do, and do it well.’ “
He said followed that plan just before he launched his first jump.
“In that literal split-second, I was like, ‘All right, the quad is not going to happen. Just stay smart, stay on your feet,’ and that’s what I did.” said Abbott.
Abbott also dialed back some other jumps, including a planned triple loop that became a double axel. But he stayed upright.
“I am good enough to be on the podium here,” said Abbott. “I won’t be, but I truly believed coming in that I had a chance to do it if I could give myself that opportunity to do a clean skate. And so I put a little too much pressure on myself to have to skate that clean program because I just wanted it so bad.”
The performances of Abbott and Brown combined to give the USA its worst men’s figure skating Olympics since 1936.
Brown, 19, of Highland Park, Ill., doesn’t yet have a quad. But he was sixth in the short program and within striking distance of a bronze. In his free skate, he was marked down on a triple axel/triple toe combo. He lost points on a triple axel when he touched down with his hand. His scores were 152.37 in the free and 238.37 overall.
“I went out there and I had fun and I performed, and that was my main goal,” Brown said. “I’ve worked hard, so hard, all year, and I just wanted to perform this program. I definitely had a few slips, as you may have seen, but the performance was there, and I just wanted to perform.”
Brown skated the Riverdance music of Reel Around the Sun by Bill Whelan.
“No, I was really relaxed. There are nerves at every event that you do,” said Brown. “I’ve worked so hard to, like, calm those nerves. And I felt really calm out there.”
Skating last, he finished behind a collection of quad jumpers. The skaters ahead of him went down one after another on their quads. But they still piled up points.
“It (the quad) is definitely something that is really important,” said Brown. “I’m working on it every day. When I do land it, it will be in that program.”
Abbott plans to retire after this season. Sato, his coach, said Abbott plans to compete at the world championships in March in Japan. He finished eighth at the 2012 worlds.
“I’m proud to be standing here,” said Abbott. “I’m a four-time national champion. I’m a two-time Olympian, and no one can take that away from me.”