Jeremy Abbott returns to backflips on the ice after low-risk skin cancer

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NEW YORK — Jeremy Abbott was taken aback when the nurse returned his cell phone. The screen displayed the top of his head. A bald spot with 13 staples.

“This Frankenstein picture,” Abbott said, recalling it two months later in an interview Sunday.

The four-time U.S. champion and two-time Olympian tossed it on social media.

Abbott told the figure skating community that he was diagnosed with and underwent surgery for the least malignant and most common form of skin cancer — basal cell carcinoma.

It is very treatable. Abbott, a 32-year-old who retired from competitive figure skating in June, could return to workouts and performing in ice shows a week after the surgery.

He spoke Sunday after performing at a pop-up, outdoor lower Manhattan rink (where he did his trademark backflip), one day after an appearance in Cincinnati. He’s headed to China for Stars on Ice next week.

The cancer story goes back to June. Abbott, whose mom had two carcinomas and a melanoma, had a regular skin-care check-up.

“Just by happenstance, [the dermatologist] was like, ‘Do you have any other questions?’ as I was walking out the door,” Abbott said. “I was like, ‘Well, actually, I do. Will you just take a look at this?'”

Abbott gestured to a nodule on top of his head. Something he first noticed a year or two ago, but it had not grown or bothered him.

“I would pick at it or play with it,” he said.

He compared it to a mole. The dermatologist believed it was a benign cyst but popped it out and ran a biopsy to be safe.

Abbott didn’t hear anything for weeks. The next month, he got a phone call while vacationing with his sister in Idaho. It was the doctor’s office.

“We got the results of your biopsy back, and, verbatim, she was like, ‘And, you have skin cancer,'” Abbott said. “I was like, OK. She was like, yeah, you have a basal cell carcinoma.

“She asked, do you have any questions? I was like, I’m sure I do, but I can’t think at the moment so I’ll have to call you back.”

Abbott did some research and learned that only in very, very rare occasions does it actually spread.

“This isn’t a big deal,” Abbott said. “But just hearing cancer, it stopped me in my tracks.”

So minor that it wasn’t a problem that Abbott’s travel schedule and the surgeon’s availability didn’t line up for another two months. The earliest he could come in was in September, two weeks before the Japan Open exhibition event.

“I didn’t want to go to Japan Open bald,” Abbott joked. “You know, the important things.”

Put it off another two weeks. He flew straight from Japan to Colorado and had surgery two days after the exhibition. Twice, they took a layer of skin and tested it for other cancer cells.

The whole process, including a wait between the two procedures, took maybe two and a half hours. Abbott didn’t think much of it until he saw the Frankenstein photo.

“This was a lot more invasive than I was expecting,” he said. “I ended up having four internal stitches and 13 staples for something that I thought literally was going to be small pieces of skin.”

He got the staples out the next week and returned to skating.

Abbott actually calls it a blessing. He wasn’t planning on being in Colorado that day.

His maternal grandmother was not doing well. He visited her the night before his surgery and saw her one more time that afternoon. She died that night.

“If this hadn’t happened,” Abbott said of the skin cancer, “I wouldn’t have been there.”

The U.S. Figure Skating Championships are in four weeks. If Abbott makes it to San Jose, it will be as a spectator (he would like to go, but made the decision recently and last-minute accommodations aren’t simple, even for a four-time champ).

Abbott hasn’t competed in nearly three years — and he’s at peace with retirement — but admits to some FOMO.

“Olympics was my favorite,” said Abbott, who was ninth in 2010 and 12th in 2014 with a team-event bronze. “It wasn’t my best competition, but it was definitely my favorite both times.”

Abbott remarked that there are three U.S. men in this week’s Grand Prix Final, the largest U.S. contingent since 2009, when it was him, Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir.

That led to an obvious topic — 18-year-old Nathan Chen, who could follow Abbott as the U.S. champion heading into the Olympics and follow Lysacek as an Olympic gold medalist.

In 2010, an 8-year-old Chen shared the ice with Abbott at the post-nationals gala. Abbott was the senior champion headed to his first Olympics. Chen the novice champ already eyeing the 2018 Winter Games.

“From the time he was 9, it was like, this kid’s going to save men’s figure skating,” said Abbott, a late-bloomer who won his first U.S. senior title at 23. “I’m sitting there like, don’t count on it. He’s 9. You can’t judge what someone’s going to do when they’re 19. But he’s definitely lived that.”

In summer 2016, Abbott remembered skating in Colorado Springs, still considering returning to competition for one more Olympic run.

Chen was at the rink, too, returning from January left hip surgery.

“He just pulled off quad [Salchow] and quad toe [loop jumps] like he had never been hurt,” Abbott remembered. “I was like, this kid is insane. What is going on? Then, two months later, there’s video of him doing quad flip and quad Lutz. It blew my mind.”

These days, Abbott is very involved in the sport. He does four-day seminars in places like Australia and Scotland, teaching kids the basics and musicality.

He choreographs. Abbott just did an exhibition program for 2010 Olympic bronze medalist and world champion Daisuke Takahashi.

After next week’s trip to China, Abbott has a Stars on Ice show in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 30. Then his own show, which benefit’s Parkinson’s research, in Aspen, Colo., after nationals on Jan. 13.

“I’m busier and I’m traveling more than when I was competing,” he said. “It’s funny, people are like, ‘I miss seeing you skate.’ I’m like, how do you miss it? I’m skating everywhere.”

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MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

U.S. women’s basketball team, statistically greatest ever, rolls to FIBA World Cup title

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The revamped U.S. women’s basketball team may have been the greatest of all time.

The Americans completed, statistically, their most dominant global championship ever by routing China 83-61 in the FIBA World Cup final on Saturday in Sydney — giving them 60 consecutive wins between the Olympics and worlds dating to 2006.

It marked the largest margin of victory in a World Cup final since the event converted from a fully round-robin format in 1983.

For the tournament, the U.S. drubbed its opponents by an average of 40.75 points per game, beating its previous record between the Olympics and worlds of 37.625 points from the 2008 Beijing Games. It was just off the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s Dream Team’s legendary margin 43.8 points per game. This U.S. team scored 98.75 points per game, its largest at worlds since 1994.

“We came here on a mission, a business trip,” tournament MVP A’ja Wilson said in a post-game press conference before turning to coach Cheryl Reeve. “We played pretty good, I think, coach.”

Since the U.S. won a seventh consecutive Olympic title in Tokyo, Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles retired. Tina Charles ceded her national team spot to younger players. Brittney Griner was detained in Russia (and still is). Diana Taurasi suffered a WNBA season-ending quad injury that ruled her out of World Cup participation (who knows if the 40-year-old Taurasi will play for the U.S. again).

Not only that, but Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, implementing a new up-tempo system.

“There was probably great concern, and maybe around the world they kind of looked at it and said, ‘Hey, now is the time to get the USA,'” Reeve said Saturday.

The U.S. response was encapsulated by power forward Alyssa Thomas, the oldest player on the roster at age 30 who made the U.S. team for the first time in her career, started every game and was called the team’s glue and MVP going into the final.

Wilson and Tokyo Olympic MVP Breanna Stewart were the leaders. Guard Kelsey Plum, a Tokyo Olympic 3×3 player, blossomed this past WNBA season and was third in the league’s MVP voting. She averaged the most minutes on the team, scored 15.8 points per game and had 17 in the final.

“The depth of talent that we have was on display,” Reeve said. “What I am most pleased about was the trust and buy-in.”

For the first time since 1994, no player on the U.S. roster was over the age of 30, creating a scary thought for the 2024 Paris Olympics: the Americans could get even better.

“When you say best-ever, I’m always really cautious with that, because, obviously, there are great teams,” Reeve said when asked specifically about the team’s defense. “This group was really hard to play against.”

Earlier Saturday, 41-year-old Australian legend Lauren Jackson turned back the clock with a 30-point performance off the bench in her final game as an Opal, a 95-65 victory over Canada for the bronze. Jackson, who came out of a six-year retirement and played her first major tournament since the 2012 Olympics, had her best scoring performance since the 2008 Olympics.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The U.S. women’s basketball team won its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headlined a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, included neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team had nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 60 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The U.S. beat China in the final, while host Australia took bronze to send 41-year-old Lauren Jackson into retirement.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), wasn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule, Results

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium 85, Bosnia and Herzegovina 55 Group A
11:30 p.m. Serbia 81, Mali 68 Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA 145, South Korea 69 Group A
2 a.m. France 67, Japan 53 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 95, Puerto Rico 60 Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia 75, Canada 72 Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 92, South Korea 73 Group A
11:30 p.m. China 81, Belgium 55 Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA 121, Bosnia and Herzegovina 59 Group A
2 a.m. Canada 88, Mali 65 Group B
3:30 a.m. Serbia 68, France 62 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 71, Japan 54 Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. USA 88, Serbia 55 Quarterfinals
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada 79, Puerto Rico 60 Quarterfinals
4 a.m. China 85, France 71 Quarterfinals
6:30 a.m. Australia 86, Belgium 69 Quarterfinals
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. USA 83, Canada 43 Semifinals
5:30 a.m. China 61, Australia 59 Semifinals
11 p.m. Australia 95, Canada 65 Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. USA 83, China 61 Gold-Medal Game