Just when it seemed like every men’s skater was going to fall, step out of a spin or otherwise fumble his first two minutes and 50 seconds on the ice in Omaha, along came Jeremy Abbott.
And just as soon as last year’s national champion got his score on Friday, along came a worthy challenger: Ross Miner, last year’s bronze medalist.
Skating near the end of a long, mistake-plagued lineup of competitors, Abbott and Miner hit the ice at a time when the audience seemed hungry for anybody — anybody — to deliver a clean skate. Both were rewarded with standing ovations and the highest marks of the night from the judges.
Abbott, who had struggled with back problems earlier in the season, said he was deliberately careful. He pulled a planned quadruple jump out of his short program a few weeks ago, though he still plans to try one in the free skate. If he stays on top after Sunday’s free skate, he’ll secure a spot on the U.S. world team and earn a fourth national title.
“My focus is to do the best I could for now, move on to the world championships in London (Ontario) and make some magic happen there,” he said.
Abbott’s score was 84.10, while Miner received 80.99 points.
Though he said he felt “tentative” stepping on the ice, Miner said he seized upon the buzz Abbott had created in the arena just a few minutes earlier.
“I fully expected (Abbott) was going to skate a great program and there was going to be a lot of energy in the building,” Miner said. “It’s usually helpful for me to skate after someone who gets the crowd going like that.”
Miner may have to fight hard to stave off competition from third- and fourth-place finishers Joshua Farris and Max Aaron, who scored 79.78 and 79.13 points, respectively.
In a press conference, 18-year-old Farris could barely contain his excitement. At last year’s nationals, he was 16th.
“I’m a little petrified being up here right now,” he told reporters.
He paused, clutched his chest and beamed.
“I’m so happy right now.”
Other competitors, however, were less thrilled about their performances.
For all of the bright spots and successful jumps, there were plenty of hard spills that drew gasps from the crowd.
Jason Brown, in seventh place, showed elegance and flexibility but tumbled on a triple axel.
Brandon Mroz opened his program with one of the few successful quadruple jumps of the night, but then nearly slid into the wall near the judges’ panel on a later jump. He ended the night in 10th.
Adam Rippon, last year’s silver medalist, had chopped off his signature curls — making him look so different that veteran skating reporters didn’t recognize him for several minutes during his warm-up skate. His performance was also a bit off from last year, with a fall landing him in sixth.
After hearing his score, Douglas Razzano, who last year finished fifth, put his head in his hands. A sprawling fall on a quad jump attempt pushed him to 14th.
Shortly after his skate, Razzano shared his thoughts on his Twitter account.
“Horrified,” he wrote.
Contact the writer: