Jeremy Abbott

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Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation brings skating stars to Detroit ahead of U.S. Championships

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By Colton Wood

DETROIT – Scott Hamilton thought it was just an ulcer.

In 1997, figure skating icon Hamilton was 50 cities into a 60-city ice tour and could no longer stand the pain he was suffering through, so he went to the emergency room to get medication, a decision that will forever be etched in Hamilton’s mind.

Hamilton, 38 at the time, soon learned his pain wasn’t the result of an ulcer. Hamilton, the 1984 Olympic gold medalist, had testicular cancer.

After watching his mother struggle with cancer, Hamilton, who eventually lost her to cancer at 18, was frightened by his diagnosis.

Hamilton ended up winning his battle, but it gave him the idea to start his own foundation to change the future of cancer. So, in 1999, he started the Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation.

Twenty years later, Hamilton and his foundation hosted a free skating event – “Sk8 to Elimin8 Cancer” – in Detroit to help raise money for his foundation and cancer research.

The event, which was held on Wednesday in anticipation for the start of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, brought together a slew of local skaters and several prominent Olympians and national champions.

“It’s really cool to be able to partner with [U.S. Figure Skating] and for them to be so willing to partner with me,” Hamilton said. “They’ve been unconditionally supportive. We have a lot of skaters here doing this. The skaters like doing this because there’s no one who hasn’t been touched by it in some way, shape or form.”

Among the skaters was Samantha Lang, a junior-level skater and Michigan resident who competed at Midwestern Sectionals this year.

“It’s a really big honor,” said Lang, who moved to Michigan from Texas at 13. “Not a lot of people can say they were a part of something like this. I feel really grateful that I got to do something as special as this and give back to the community because figure skating has done a lot for me.”

While Lang, 17, was skating for more than just the crowd’s enjoyment on Wednesday, she was honored to be able to skate alongside eminent figure skaters.

“It kind of puts pressure on your own back to say, ‘Hey, you need to step up to the plate and do the best you can because look at all these people that have done great things. You need to do great things,’” Lang said.

Yuka Sato, the 1994 world champion from Japan, was one of the last skaters to perform during Wednesday’s event.

Sato, who has lived in Michigan since 1998, said it meant a lot to her to be able to skate for Hamilton’s foundation.

“Numerous of [Hamilton’s and my] friends have fought cancer,” Sato said. “It’s always very sentimental. One more person that can be saved [from cancer], that would be wonderful. Scott and I have been longtime friends. I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs of what Scott has gone through. Anytime I’m available, and if we can do this together – this means a lot to myself, and anything I can do for Scott – I’m here.”

To wrap the night up, Olympic medalist and four-time U.S. national champion Jeremy Abbott took to the ice and awed the audience.

“I think everyone is affected by cancer in one way or another,” Abbott said. “I think what Scott’s doing is really important.”

Abbott was diagnosed and underwent surgery for basal cell carcinoma in Dec. 2017. It is the least malignant and most common form of skin cancer.

Abbott grew up admiring the career of Hamilton, so to be able to perform for the foundation was something he didn’t take for granted.

“Every once in a while,” Abbott said, “I’ll just step back and I’ll be like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m performing with these people that I idolized as a kid and wanted to be and wanted to have their careers. And now, they’re calling me to be a part of it.’ When I actually have those moments where I can really step back and see that progression, my mind is blown.”

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As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Gracie Gold wants to be new skater in comeback event; TV/stream schedule

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When Gracie Gold was in treatment for anxiety, depression and an eating disorder last year, she received a message from two-time Olympian Jeremy Abbott.

“If you ever want to come back to skating, I want to do an exhibition piece for you as a gift,” Abbott, who has taken up choreography in retirement, told his friend. Gold said it was a sweet offer and thanked him.

“At that point I don’t think that she had thought about coming back at all,” Abbott said last week.

Several months later, Gold had thought it over. She contacted Abbott in the spring.

“I’m going to make a go at this. Would you be willing to do my programs?” Abbott recalled Gold telling him. “I was shocked,” Abbott continued, “but also, at the same time, I was not.”

Gold, a two-time U.S. champ who finished fourth at the 2014 Olympics, competes this week for the first time since the January 2017 U.S. Championships. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage of Rostelecom Cup from Moscow.

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Friday 6 a.m. Men’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
8 a.m. Rhythm Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
10:30 a.m. Pairs’ Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
12 p.m. Women’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Saturday 5:30 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
7:30 a.m. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
9:30 a.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
11:30 a.m. Women’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Sunday 12 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

Gold, who detailed her last two years in a video published a month ago, is refraining from more interviews until after she skates. Abbott choreographed both her short and long programs, making a few trips to her Pennsylvania training base in the last six months. Gold is coached by former French skater Vincent Restencourt.

“She told me that she wanted to be a new skater and a new Gracie,” Abbott said. “She said that she always admired the artistry that I had and that she really wanted to bring something new to her skating.”

Abbott said her program music choices — “I Put a Spell On You” and “She Used to Be Mine,” the latter from the Broadway musical “Waitress” — reflect the new Gold. The former is “a little more mature and a little more sexy and playful than anything she’s done in the past.” The latter speaks to how she got from there to here in the last two years.

“At one point, she was on top of the world and had everything at her feet,” Abbott said. (Gold has said she spiraled psychologically after squandering a short-program lead at the 2016 Worlds and missing the podium altogether.) “Then she had some really big struggles and had to really step back from the life that she knew. Now she’s having to rebuild herself. It’s kind of looking back at who she was and who she used to be and now where she is and who she wants to become.”

Gold made it clear to Abbott whom she wanted to become.

“She was like, ‘I always was viewed as a jumper and not a skater. I always wanted to be an artist, but everyone told me stick to what you’re best at,'” Abbott said. “Working with her, she is an artist. She is sensitive. She understands the music. She gets it.”

Abbott visited Gold once this fall for choreography touch-ups and will not be in Moscow with her and Restencourt. Rather, he will be performing in 1984 Olympic champion Scott Hamilton‘s show in Nashville on Sunday.

Abbott doesn’t know how Gold is handling the comeback nerves or what to expect of her jumps.

“This isn’t like a big massive coming-out party for her,” he said. “This is really just the first step to get her feet back under her, get her going again because the plan isn’t about this competition. The plan isn’t about this season. The plan is really about building for her future and the next four years.”

The field is led by Olympic champion Alina Zagitova, fellow Russian Sofia Samodurova and Japanese Yuna Shiraiwa, all 16-year-olds with a chance to make December’s exclusive, six-skater Grand Prix Final.

This is Gold’s lone competition until the new year. Many will watch and wonder how she stacks up among Americans heading into January’s national championships. (Two U.S. women are ranked in the top 30 in the world this season, with many big names sitting out the fall.)

“From where her life was, I think it takes some major balls to even put herself back into this situation,” said Abbott, who noted that when he first visited Gold in the spring, she had her double jumps back. “For where she came from, she’s made huge strides. It’s really been impressive to watch her growth.”

In the men’s field, double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu is a heavy favorite given the absence of his top rivals, Nathan Chen and Shoma Uno. Canadian Keegan Messing and Russian Mikhail Kolyada are also in the mix to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

In pairs, Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are the clear favorites on home ice, but Americans Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc carry the intrigue.

They have a great chance at the Grand Prix Final if they can finish second, after taking third at Skate America four weeks ago. Cain and LeDuc rank fourth in the Rostelecom field by best scores this season but are only 4.21 points behind the second-ranked pair.

Russians Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin headline the ice dance. They’re ranked second in the world behind Americans Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, who clinched their Grand Prix Final spot three weeks ago.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season…NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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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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