US Olympic Figure Skating 2014: Meet the USA's Men's Team
The thrilling men’s competition at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships delivered one largely expected and proven skater to the U.S. Olympic figure skating team, alongside a rising star whom frankly few saw coming.
Jeremy Abbott put down the short program of his life on Friday and followed it up with a clutch free skate Sunday to capture gold at the national championships, earning his way to the second Olympics of his stellar career.
Yet it was U.S. silver medalist Jason Brown who stole the show during Sunday’s free skate, gliding his way to the top performance of the day and an unexpected spot on the U.S. figure skating team heading to Sochi.
With Abbott, the U.S. men’s team has the experience and dependability it needs in Sochi. With Brown, there’s significant potential for some star power that could deliver electric moments in the Games.
Combined, they provide more intrigue and potential than many thought there would be for the U.S. men's figure skating team in the Winter Olympics.
U.S. Championship Results
Due in large part to his amazing short program on Friday, Abbott claimed his fourth gold medal in what will be his final appearance in the national championships.
His 99.86 short-program score was the best in competition history and sent him into Sunday's free skate with a comfortable lead that he ultimately retained. He finished with a combined total of 274.27, a little more than four points better than Brown.
"I'm ready to go back home and keep plugging away at our plan because that's what's been working for me," Abbott said to USA Today after his gold-medal triumph.
Abbott previously won national championship gold in 2009, 2010 and 2012. His 2010 gold medal delivered him to the Vancouver Winter Olympics, where he finished ninth in what was by far his most significant international skate.
The skater also owns a pair of bronze medals in the Four Continents Championships and is a three-time Grand Prix Series gold medalist.
He comes from an accomplished family of winter sports athletes. His sister Gwen is a national-level downhill ski racer who has competed in extreme skiing at the Winter X Games.
The Olympian began the Jeremy Abbott Boys Fund to help young boys involved in competitive figure skating with the cost of training-related expenses.
Though you can’t tell on the ice, the skater has several tattoos with personal meaning to him, and he collects artwork sent to him by fans.
2014 Championship Results
After quite literally leaping onto the stage with a strong short program that left him in third place, Brown delivered the biggest and most important performance of his young career on Sunday. As a result, he won the free skate and earned the U.S. silver medal.
His free-skate score of 182.61 was good enough to leap past Richard Dornbush and hold off defending champion Max Aaron in the overall competition. It was also too good to even think about leaving the 19-year-old off his first-ever Olympic team.
"I couldn't have asked for anything more," said Brown to USA Today. "I went out there. I was so trained, and I was ready to fight for whatever I could. That's what I did. I enjoyed every moment. I enjoyed the crowd...I can't thank them enough."
While making the 2014 U.S. Olympic men’s figure skating team is by far the marquee accomplishment of Brown’s career, other performances have suggested such a feat was possible.
The Illinois native is a two-time World Junior medalist and won a silver medal in 2013. He was also the 2010 U.S. Junior champion and the 2011 Junior Grand Prix Finals champion.
Brown began skating at the tender age of three after his older sister inspired him to take up the sport.
While accomplished on the ice, he is an equally impressive student, having earned the President’s Education Award for Outstanding Academic Excellence. The teenager has supported tsunami relief and the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
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Can Abbott Find Olympic Glory in Final Skate?
The 2014 Winter Olympics will be the final significant international skate of Abbott’s distinguished career. It’s also a second opportunity to achieve the Olympic glory that eluded him in the 2010 Vancouver Games.
At 28 years old, he is by no means a spring chicken in the world of competitive figure skating. That said, there’s little the American hasn't seen on the ice, and that will serve him well in Sochi.
The question, however, is whether he has that one last great skate in him to earn the medal he missed out on in the previous Olympics. If he can, it would be a storybook finish to his strong career.
Is Brown Really Ready for the Olympic Spotlight?
At 19 years old, Brown hasn't competed as a senior skater in a significant international competition, so he will be jumping into the deep end of the ice at the Sochi Games.
The difference between skating for a national championship versus an Olympic medal is stark, and the Illinois native will have to prepare himself for the pressure that comes with competing against the top skaters in the world.
That said, the joy and confidence he displayed at the national championships, especially during his silver-medal-clinching free skate, should convince him that he has the talent to compete in Sochi next month.
Will Brown’s Exuberance Complement Abbott’s Experience?
One could argue that while he’s inexperienced, the energy and excitement Brown brings to the U.S. team could be the perfect complement to Abbott’s pedigree.
With the loss of 2010 Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek due to injury, Sochi medal expectations for the men’s team were muted prior to last week’s national championships. Yet with the unexpected emergence of Brown in Boston, there is a renewed sense of optimism, which was palatable at the end of Sunday’s free skate and the subsequent team announcement.
Considering Abbott’s Olympic experience, the United States now brings a unique combination of accomplishment and potential to its team, which could positively influence how it performs in the Winter Games.
How They Compare to US Teams of Old
The United States has captured just three Olympic gold medals in men’s figure skating in the past two decades. Yet it just so happens that Brown and Abbott will be heading to Sochi on the heels of the last man to deliver such a triumph.
Lysacek’s victory in the Vancouver Games, coupled with now-retired Johnny Weir’s sixth-place showing, makes the 2010 men’s figure skating team a tough act to follow, but that’s exactly what the 2014 tandem must do in next month’s Winter Games.
That said, tempered medal expectations, coupled with an overall lack of Olympic success in recent history, should ease the pressure on Brown and Abbott to live up to any lofty standards in advance of the Sochi Games.
Prior to Lysacek’s stirring Vancouver victory, the United States hadn't won a gold medal since Brian Boitano’s triumph in the 1988 Calgary Games, which was preceded by Scott Hamilton’s breakthrough in the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics.
Going back to the 1980 Lake Placid Games, the U.S. men’s figure skating team has delivered only six total medals and hasn't had multiple winners in a single Winter Games since 1956, when it swept the medals.
Given that mild success, Abbott and Brown can focus on living up to their own abilities and expectations in Sochi rather than those generated from years of Winter Olympic accomplishments from past U.S. teams.
What Is Team USA’s Outlook in Sochi?
While the scintillating national championship performances delivered by Abbott and Brown have provided some much-needed momentum to the U.S. Olympic men’s figure skating team, the reality is that they remain true dark horses to deliver gold in Sochi—or a medal of any kind, for that matter.
The tandem will face a deep field of international skaters in Russia, headlined by Canada’s Patrick Chan and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu. The Americans will need performances even greater than the career efforts they turned in last week at Boston’s TD Garden.
Brown is a rising star but is likely four years short of a true Olympic impact. Likewise, Abbott is in the twilight of his career, and though worthy of being in Sochi, he likely lacks the firepower to challenge the top skaters.
The Americans will perform admirably, and both could exceed expectations, but Abbott and Brown will be hard-pressed to duplicate anything close to Lysacek’s 2010 performance.