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Jeremy Abbott, Johnny Weir look like champs as men's skate opens

January 15, 2010 | 11:37 pm

Both Jeremy Abbott, the defending champion, and Johnny Weir, the winner from 2004 through 2006, performed up to title-winning standards in Friday night's short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Spokane, Wash.

The difference was that Abbott was doing a reprise of his excellent skating a year ago, while Weir reinvented himself after a dismal effort that had kept him off the world team for the first time since 2003.

With half the field yet to skate -- including reigning world champion Evan Lysacek -- Abbott led with 87.85, bettering his score after an exceptional short program last year. Weir had 83.51.

Neither tried a quadruple jump. Ryan Bradley did, opening with a quad-toe triple toe, only to kill himself by turning two later triples into doubles, leaving him 13 points back of Weir.

Both Abbott and Weir skated flawlessly. Abbott's more intricate footwork and greater elan heading into jumps were what separated him from Weir.

Weir was so upset by his skating last year he was ready to quit until his mother talked him out of it. Friday, with the crowd at Spokane Arena providing loud support, he realized again what a mistake that would have been.

"[This] made me regret ever thinking of not even trying," Weir said.

Abbott's skating Friday seemed further justification of his decision to change coaches after the previous one, Tom Zakrajsek, took him to the national title. He began last spring working with 1994 world champion Yuka Sato of Japan, a relatively inexperienced coach.

Finishing 11th at worlds for a second straight year made Abbott feel he needed something new to become a medal contender at the global level.

"There is always worry when you make changes, but I felt so strongly about my decision that regardless of the outcome, I wasn't going to have any regrets," Abbott said. "She has been in my shoes, had to deal with pressure, so she knows what it takes. I feel really confident she could take what she learned from her skating and translate that to my story."

The men are after the three places on the U.S. team at the Winter Olympics.

-- Philip Hersh