Surging Abbott sets U.S. record, skates into first at U.S. Championships

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BOSTON — In a program that was giving Jeremy Abbott nightmares, he delivered a dream come true on Friday night.

The three-time national champion was waking up in a cold sweat in the nights leading up to the U.S. Championships in Boston, but skated to a 99.86 at TD Garden to not only set a new U.S. record, but also launch himself into first place in an Olympic year.

“I was having these nightmares where I was in seventh place and too far out to make the Olympic team,” Abbott explained. “I would wake up crying; it was horrifying. Every single night I had this dream where I imploded in the short program.”

Abbott broke a record that 22-year-old Richard Dornbush set earlier in the night, the California-based skater electrifying the crowd with a 92.04. Teenager Jason Brown, just 19, was third, scoring a 87.47.

Abbott had made it public that this would be his final U.S. Championships, the Nationals winner in 2009, 2010 and 2012 saying that he would hang up his skates after this season – Sochi or not.

Davis/White skate closer to historic sixth U.S. title

“This whole week has been really special for me,” the 28-year-old Abbott told reporters. “I just wanted to live in it because it’s never happening again.”

But his program will happen again and again online in the digital archive, where fans will see that he started off with a monstrous quadruple Salchow-triple toe combination that sent the crowd into roars.

Abbott, who flopped at the Vancouver Games to a ninth-place finish, has been known to slip up – literally – when he gets his big elements under his belt. But he didn’t do that in Boston, the veteran hitting a triple Lutz and then later a triple Axel, skating with a kind of vigor and energy that only a record-setting performance can contain.

“I’ll never forget this performance,” Abbott said plainly.

Nor will Dornbush his. Second in 2011, Dornbush has been up and down for the last two seasons, placing a dismal 13th in 2012 and sixth a year ago. But he delivered a career-best as just the second skater of the night, sending a “top-that” message to his competitors with a landed quadruple Salchow and then a triple-triple combination.

“I’m not really a New Year’s resolution person, but I just said, ‘You know what? I want to land more quadruple Salchows in competition,'” Dornbush told reporters.

Abbott adores the ‘underdog’ status

Crowd favorite Brown, who was beaming after his short, doesn’t have a quad in his reportoire but that didn’t seem to matter, the Chicago native saving a triple Axel early and then drawing in an admiring Boston crowd.

“Being such a crowd favorite can be such a blessing and a curse,” Brown’s coach Kori Ade told NBCOlympics.com. “This has all come so quickly this year, having this much fan support where he’s stepping onto the ice and there’s more pressure on him.”

The pressure seemed to hurt Olympic hopefuls Max Aaron, the reigning U.S. champion, and a resurgent Adam Rippon, who placed fourth and sixth, respectively.

Only two American men will be placed on the U.S. Olympic team for Sochi, presumably the top two skaters at these Championships. But the U.S. Figure Skating Association will not name its team until Sunday night, following the men’s free skate, utilizing its international panel to select the two skaters.

“That was just fun,” Abbott said, breaking into a smile. “But I still have four and a half minutes to skate, eight more triples.”

And perhaps – if he can execute it – one more dream performance.

Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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Lara Gut-Behrami wins Killington giant slalom, and the overall title race may be on

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Swiss Lara Gut-Behrami rallied from third place after the first run for her 35th career World Cup victory, taking a giant slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Saturday.

Gut-Behrami, 31, earned her fifth World Cup giant slalom win and first in six years. She prevailed by .07 of a second over Italian Marta Bassino combining times from two windy runs. Sweden’s Sara Hector, the Olympic champion and first-run leader, ended up third.

“Last two years I’ve been getting better in GS again,” said Gut-Behrami, who won the GS at the last world championships in 2021. “Last year I was struggling with my health. I was all the time sick.”

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Gut-Behrami’s best events are downhill and super-G, so a strong start to the season in GS could put her on a path to winning the World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing. She previously lifted that crystal globe in 2016.

Reigning World Cup overall champ Mikaela Shiffrin, who previously placed second, third, fourth and fifth in Killington giant slaloms, finished 13th after winning the season’s first two races, slaloms in Finland last week. It marked her lowest World Cup GS finish since December 2019.

“[Finland] was a spectacular weekend,” Shiffrin, who has not had much recent GS training, said after her 10th-place opening run Saturday. “Every race is a different story.”

Shiffrin won all five World Cup slaloms in Killington dating to 2016 and will go for her 50th career World Cup slalom victory across all venues on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC and Peacock).

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