Competing in the US Figure Skating Championships for the final time in his eight-year senior career, Jeremy Abbott wanted to savor the moment and stay calm. Trouble was, he nearly took too long to begin his free skate. With Abbott pushing the one-minute time limit given each entrant, the TD Garden crowd started a countdown. Five . . . four . . . three . . . two. An admittedly frantic Abbott hustled to center ice before the countdown clock expired and hoped his music would start.
Shortly after the sounds of “Exogenesis” by Muse filled the arena Sunday afternoon, Abbott nailed a quad toe loop, setting the tone for a performance that would win gold. Even though he turned three planned triple jumps into doubles and under-rotated a triple axel in the bonus, Abbott packed in enough jumps and artistry to secure a return trip to the Olympics. It helped that he entered the free skate with more than a 7-point advantage after a record-setting score in the short program.
“I have to thank the audience because without them I would have been disqualified,” said Abbott. “That was really cutting it close. I’m glad that I was ready enough to go. I enjoy this competition more than anything and it’s always magic and I always feel it. I’m going to be sad not to be back on that ice next year, but I’m really excited to be going to Sochi.”
Abbott effectively ensured the title with a successful triple lutz-double toe loop-double toe loop late in his routine, though he didn’t heave a sigh of relief until he nailed his final jump, a triple loop. After he finished, he took his time soaking in the atmosphere, waving to the crowd and tearing up.
“I knew I was going to cry good or bad today and it just all came out,” said Abbott. “I’m just a small-town boy [from Aspen, Colo.] and I never thought I would be here. I’ve been skating since I could walk and I love the sport more than I can say. I’ve really given my mind, my body, and my blood, sweat, and tears and everything I have for it.”
With the victory, Abbott, 28, became the first man to win four national titles since Todd Eldredge won his fourth in 2002. Since making his senior nationals debut during the 2006-07 season, he never has placed lower than fourth at the event, including last year when he took the bronze.
Abbott, who finished with 274.27 points, also earned an opportunity to redeem himself on the sport’s biggest stage after a disappointing ninth-place finish at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Joining Abbott on the US Olympic team is Jason Brown. The 19-year-old moved up from his third-ranked short program with a nearly flawless free skate.
Meanwhile, Max Aaron, 21, the defending champion, skated a jump-packed program that fell short on artistry, placing him third with 260.44 points.
“[Sunday] didn’t go as planned,” said Aaron, who was the best of the free skate field when it came to the technical element score, a nod to his jumping ability, but ranked sixth when it came to the score for artistic elements. “It’s just an honor to be in the Olympic trials.”
Brown entered the competition feeling that way, too. But before he finished his free skate, the crowd was on its feet, wildly applauding a routine done to Irish music. He won over the crowd with his tricky jig steps, his artistry, and his exuberant personality that matched the fast-paced footwork. Brown hoped it would be the perfect program for a city with plenty of Irish pride. It proved impossible to beat.
Brown came away with the highest free skate mark of the night, posting a score of 182.61 points. When the number was announced, he put his hands to his head in shock. His combined total of 270.08 pushed him into second. He was still in shock as he talked about his runner-up finish almost an hour later.
“I’m kind of shaking right now,” said Brown. “The program that I put out, I can’t believe that happened. I train so hard to be able to put out that kind of program and to play to the audience. I work on calming my nerves before a skate, so I can go out and stay calm during these situations.”
Brown did not attempt a quadruple jump like the other top finishers, but he did score big with an early triple axel-triple toe combination and a triple lutz-single loop-triple salchow combination midway through his program. He racked up bonus points for five triples in the second half of his program. His only deduction came on an under-rotated triple axel.
“All I wanted to do was go out there and skate two clean programs and I couldn’t have asked for anything more,” said Brown. “I told myself that no matter where I placed, no matter what ended up happening I’d be proud of myself and happy if I was able to skate those skates.”
While Boston-based Ross Miner entered the free skate with an Olympic berth out of reach, he brought the Garden crowd to its feet with a program entitled “Boston Strong.” The routine depicted events before and after the Boston Marathon bombings. His costume featured a sequined version of the blue-and-yellow ribbon that has become the symbol of “Boston Strong.”
Given that Miner, 22, has struggled with a sprained ankle this season, he came through with a relatively strong free skate and finished seventh. He didn’t nail all his jumps — singling one planned triple and doubling another — but he did hit the right emotional notes.
“I knew that this was an opportunity to go show this program,” said Miner, the 2013 silver medalist at nationals. “That’s going to be one of the most meaningful programs when I look back, when I get a little older. This is one of the first times at nationals that I was really able to connect and stay connected to the choreography and the program throughout.”