Jeremy Abbott falls as he performs in the Men's Figure Skating Team Short Program at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the Sochi Winter Olympics on on Thursday. (JUNG YEON-JE / AFP/Getty Images)
Sochi, Russia — World champion ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White stood behind the seated Jeremy Abbott in the Iceberg Skating Palace, stretching an American flag between them as a backdrop.
Then, Abbott saw his score in the men’s portion of the first team competition in figure skating in the history of the Olympics, and it was as if a dagger was driven into his gut. Already upset by “falling on my butt,” as he later put it, he abruptly doubled over, forehead nearly to knees.
The disappointment of failing again, and simultaneously failing his teammates, was overwhelming.
Funny how these things go sometimes, eh?
What if it is serendipity?
But first, a narrative of the disaster.
Skating after the fine Russian champion Evgeny Plyushchenko, Abbott started, reached his pace and glided into his first intended combination, a quad toe loop followed by a triple toe loop.
Coming out of the quad, landing on his right foot, the skate blade was pointed somewhat against his momentum.
The results were pure physics.
Down he began to go, both skate blades chattering like the tires of a side-skidding car on an icy curve and suddenly, he was into the retaining wall on all fours, looking utterly disconsolate, as if to say, “Not again!”
Troubling too is that before the skate, as Abbott talked to his coach Yuka Sato, close-up television camera shots on the Russian DX6 Olympic network showed a plainly nervous Abbott.
And he came to Sochi saying he would put all that behind him.
Will Sochi be different?
While clearly disaster has struck too often in Abbott’s career, there remained a residue of a sense that somehow, some way, Sochi will be different for the guy from Aspen, Colo., who moved his training from the busy Olympics training site in Colorado Springs to the Detroit Skating Center four years ago to be away from the maddening crowd.
Occasionally, as it did at the U.S. Championships in Boston last month, when he skated such a sparkling short program that no one could catch in the free skate, Abbott’s undeniably bright promise shimmers through long enough to reveal its power.
Unfortunately, the story of his career to date is that his promise remains just that.
And it is getting late in the day to change that.
Abbott already has announced this is his last Olympics, and probably his final season of competitive skating.
But can an athlete long notorious for disappointment, who perhaps psyches himself out during big performances, rise to the occasion in the men’s short program February 13 and in his last Olympic free skate the next day?
“For me, I feel like it was a very positive step,” he said, causing people to tilt their heads sideways. “I mean, you’re all going to think I’m crazy. You know, I just fell on my butt and did a horrible program.
“But, I have another chance next week and I’ve been skating extremely consistently here and I’ve been skating consistently at home and I love, love, love this ice, here.
“And you know, I think I just needed to work off the rust, shake of the demons, you know? We all know that I have a lot of demons!”
New to everyone
What may be different about Abbott in Sochi is that he laughed at his self-indictment.
Asked about her athlete’s mental state as he took the ice, Sato said, “I’m not quite sure, we need to discuss that.”
And after the skate, she added, “I’m quite surprised in what just happened, because he has been skating very consistently since nationals finished and we went back in training, to this afternoon in practice.”
But, while apologizing for perhaps some selfish perspective, Sato said that, in terms of Sochi, “We’ve just started.”
“It might be serendipity,” she allowed. “You never know until it happens what’s a blessing and what’s a curse
“As soon as we get out of this building we need to really refresh and reassess.”
If anything, Abbott seemed keen for his homework.
Perhaps the seeds of his catastrophe were in the event, itself.
First, it is new to him and everyone involved. And, he stressed he had aimed to please his teammates. Perhaps he even told himself they were relying on him, first out of the gate in the inaugural competition.
But once again, it was a combination of factors that simply proved to be too much.
“(It) was a very unfortunate day for my teammates,” Abbott said after the skate. “And I love being on Team USA. And I’m so honored to be skating with the kids I’m skating with.
“And they’ve really become like family in the past couple of weeks, and I’ve known them all for so long.
“And I really wanted to come out and win, for my friends and my family. That was very important to me. And so I’m torn apart that I couldn’t do that for them.
After he repeated he was “torn apart” at failing his teammates, Abbott suddenly paused. His facial muscles relaxed, his face brightened, the tone of his voice changed.
He was suddenly at ease, perhaps for the first time on this night.
“It was a very good thing for me, individually because I could get that out of the way,” he said, in earnest.
“I could say, ‘All right, I had my Olympic disaster, and now I can move on and do what I came here to do.’”