Abbott ends Lysacek-Weir domination

CLEVELAND -- Jeremy Abbott's "awful" day turned out pretty well.

Abbott won his first title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Sunday, ending the five-year stranglehold that Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir have had on the top spot. It's the second major title in as many months for Abbott, who won the Grand Prix final in December.

"I felt awful leading up to this event, I felt awful today, I felt awful on the ice," he said afterward, smiling. "But I was able to control myself and do what I needed to do. I'm really relieved that it's over, and I'm so excited that I won. It's certainly something I've been working for for a long time, and I'm very happy it's happened."

Abbott finished with 241.89 points, more than 13 points ahead of training mate Brandon Mroz. Add in Ryan Bradley, and three of the top four skaters all came from the same rink in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Lysacek, winner of the last two U.S. titles, dropped to third after a surprisingly conservative and faulty program.

"The only reason why it's so difficult to defend the title is because it means so much to me," Lysacek said. "That's the saddest part."

Even sadder was Weir's performances. He finished fifth after a lethargic free skate and a botched short program, and was left off the world team for the first time since 2003.

"I completely take primary ownership of my illness and the fact I wasn't prepared," said Weir, whose preparation was compromised by a severe case of the flu over the holidays. "But at the same time, I can't push myself and expect something that I know is impossible."

For Abbott, anything seems possible these days.

The U.S. junior champion in 2005, Abbott's talent was never in question. But he was often overlooked because of his inconsistency. That and the fact that everybody took a back seat to Lysacek and Weir, who have not only dominated nationals, they've been perennial medal contenders on the international stage.

But Abbott turned these nationals into his personal party.

"Everything happens for a reason, and it happens at its own time," Abbott said. "I may be a late bloomer, but I guess it's just my timing and I'm thrilled that it's happening."

With just about everybody complaining that the new judging system has stripped skating of all of its beauty and artistry, Abbott showed that it can still be done. And done well.

His program didn't have the most difficult jumps -- skating last, he didn't need to do the quad and he didn't take the risk -- but just as Alissa Czisny did in winning the women's title, he showed there's more to skating than jumps. There is heart and soul and emotions, and Abbott displayed all three.

His face was wonderfully expressive, displaying every inch of the passion, anxiety and excitement of the music. Even if you didn't recognize his music -- "Eight Seasons" -- you were swept up in the program. His footwork was spectacular, moving as lightly across the ice as a pianist's fingers dance across the keyboard.

"I don't think that the new system is a hindrance to artistry at all," Abbott said. "I think you really just have to find what drives you as your art and really just stick to that and be true to that."

Of course, it's easier to do when you're trying to climb rather than stay on top. Just ask Lysacek.

Though Lysacek insisted he didn't feel nervous Sunday, his performance was decidedly lackluster. His program to "Rhapsody in Blue" has great potential, especially the playful footwork toward the end that makes him look as if he's dancing in the streets in his dark blue tuxedo with a red rose on the lapel.

But he was way too tentative, and didn't have any of the crowd interaction that is usually his strength.

"I feel very weird about the program tonight. It kind of just happened," said a subdued Lysacek. "I wasn't tired, I wasn't winded, I just went through it."

He'd been landing his quad consistently in practice and even did one in the warm-up. But he didn't get nearly the height he needed on the takeoff, underrotated it and crashed to the ice. He was crooked in the air on his triple salchow, though he managed to save the landing. He was off-balance on his second triple axel, too, forcing him to take a hop before doing a triple toe that was supposed to be in combination.

He appeared shell-shocked when he finished, and covered his face in his hands when he sat down in Kiss and Cry.

"It was nowhere close to my best," Lysacek said. "But it's all learning, so I'll take from it what I can."

Mroz was ecstatic with his finish, as he should be. Though this is his first season at the senior level, he already looks like a steely veteran.

He had the cleanest program of the day, and the most difficult. His quadruple toe loop jump was huge, he could have thrown in another turn. He did eight more triple jumps -- no small feat on a day when some guys struggled to do doubles. And while he's still young -- he just turned 18 in December -- he's got a knack for performing.

After finishing seventh in the short program, Weir needed a fantastic performance Sunday to have a shot at the world team. Instead, he popped his very first jump, a triple axel, doubled what should have been a triple loop and fell on a triple flip. His footwork was incredibly difficult, filled with intricate steps, turns and hops, but he appeared to just be going through the motions with it.

His entire performance, in fact, was dull -- and that's really saying something for the colorful and quirky Weir.

Weir blamed his performances on his shortened preparation after his bout with the flu, when he lost 8 pounds in a single day.

"It may sound like an excuse, but you have to remember that Michael Jordan had a whole team around him," Weir said when reminded that Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to victory in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals when he was sick. "I'm a single, skinny, sparkly boy standing by myself."