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Abbott skates to U.S. title, secures Olympic berth

| Monday, Jan. 18, 2010, 12:00 p.m.

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Jeremy Abbott came to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships wanting a spot on the Vancouver Olympic team more than a second consecutive national title.

He got both.

Abbott put on his most impressive performance since winning nationals last year, peaking at the perfect time. His score of 263.66 points was 25 more than that of world champion Evan Lysacek -- a landslide, according to skating's new judging system.

"I just felt so proud because this is probably the best performance I've ever given in my entire life," Abbott said.

Johnny Weir finished fifth in the free skate, but had built up a big enough lead in the short program to stay third overall.

The three-man Olympic team was announced after the competition and -- no surprise -- it was the top three. During their victory lap, Abbott, Lysacek and Weir all carried U.S. flags as chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" rang through the arena.

"I'm very honored to be part of this team and stand next to these two guys," Lysacek said. "Of the six, seven, eight, nine, 10 incredible men that competed tonight, we came out on top. We're going to work really hard, and we're going to do really well."

Abbott imploded after winning the title last year with dismal performances at Four Continents and the world championships. That prompted him to make a coaching change last May, a decision many questioned because it was coming so close to the Olympics. When he got off to a slow start this season, it seemed to back up the doubters' concerns.

But Abbott had his eye on this time of year all along, the only one of the top three who didn't have any obvious mistakes.

"Everyone has doubt in themselves, but I used to believe it," Abbott said. "That little nagging voice in the back of my head that told me I couldn't do it, I'd believe it. I'm learning I can quiet that voice and tell it to shut up."

He was, by far, the best all-around skater, showing off his entire arsenal of jumps and doing it with a grace and ease that comes with knowing you are well-trained for this moment. He opened up his program with a quadruple toe loop jump, landing it more easily than some do triples, and also did a triple axel-triple toe combination.

With Lysacek falling on his quad attempt, those jumps might have been enough to put Abbott at the top. But he tossed off a triple lutz-triple toe-double loop combo for good measure.

Abbott's classical program wasn't as entertaining as his "A Day in the Life" short program, but he brought down the house with his final spin. It was so tight and centered, it might have drilled a hole in the middle of the ice and the fans were on their feet before he stopped whirling.

And those new coaches• Former world champion Yuka Sato and husband, Jason Dungjen, embraced as Abbott soaked in the applause from the crowd.

Lysacek didn't have his usual flair, looking more like he was doing a test run than a true performance. Which, in some ways, it was. Lysacek, the United States' best hope for an Olympic gold medal since Brian Boitano won in '88, made significant upgrades to his programs after winning last month's Grand Prix final in hopes of improving his technical score. All but assured a place in Vancouver, he was more concerned with seeing how those changes worked here than the final results.

Good thing. He fell on his quadruple toe, one of the jumps he just added, and did a very crooked double loop. He also had to fight to save the landing of his triple axel-double toe combination, and his footwork seemed to lack energy.

Lysacek knew it wasn't his best -- certainly not the majestic performance he had here in 2007 to win his first national title -- sticking out his tongue in Mr. Yuk fashion when he finished. As he skated off the ice, he detoured to check the tracings of his quad attempt, slapping his hands together.

Weir hit his low point after a dismal performance at nationals last year left him off the world team for the first time since 2004. He actually considered quitting the sport, only bouncing back after a pep talk from his mother, and it was clear just how much a second trip to the Olympics means to him.

The colorful, quirky and always entertaining Weir was one-dimensional, clearly trying not to step off that podium. He popped his second triple axel into a single and stepped out of the landing of his triple-triple combination, and only his final footwork segment got the crowd going.

Even his costume, redesigned after the Grand Prix final, was disappointingly tame, with only sparkles and a touch of fur to glam it up. His idol, Lady Gaga, would definitely not approve.

If Weir had not had a solid cushion after the short, it might be Ryan Bradley going to Vancouver.

Bradley put on one of the best shows of the day and was the only man to do two quads, including one in combination. He also did a three-jump combo. But it was his playfulness that made him such a delight and had the audience laughing out loud and standing before his program was over.

Skating to Baroque chamber music, he fluttered his fingers as if he were a conductor and, in one trip to the end of he rink, bowed to fans like a wealthy gentleman at a 1700's dance. He couldn't have given the program more life had he been wearing a big, powdered wig. The only knock on the program was it didn't include a triple axel, a staple at this level. He did do a double.

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