Don't be quick to judge Abbott

ADLER -- Yeah, yeah. Jeremy Abbott fell on the ice in the short program Thursday night, just as he did last week in the team competition, just as he did at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. And yeah, he always struggles at the Olympics. And ha-ha, he has more demons eating at his self-confidence than the graphics wizards at Industrial Light and Magic could create in a year.

But before we write him off as an Olympic-scale choker, let me ask you this: Have you ever fallen on ice? Have you ever fallen and bruised yourself or broken a bone? Do you think you would have been able to stand up and instantly perform jumps and spins and athletic feats that could dazzle a global audience? While also being scrutinized by a panel of international experts as you sit waiting for their verdict with the world cameras focused on you?

For that matter, can you even skate?

So when a reporter asked Abbott after Friday's free program whether there is any validity to the view that he always chokes on the biggest stage, the four-time U.S. national champion did not slip or fall. Abbott instead delivered a gold-medal response we all should keep in mind before judging athletes who compete on ice.

AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev

A battered and sore Jeremy Abbott ended his Sochi Olympics with his free skate performance.

"I would just want to put my middle finger in the air and say a big F-you to everyone who has ever said that to me," Abbott said. "Because they have never stood in my shoes. They have never had to do what I have to do. Nobody has to stand center ice in front of a million people and put an entire career on the line for eight minutes of their life when they've been doing it for 20-some years. And if you think that's not hard then you're a damn idiot.

"Some people can handle it better than others, but everyone has that mental struggle and goes through the same doubts and same things. I'm not alone. Everyone has their highs and their lows, they just come at different moments. Some people have their moment at the Olympics and some people have it at the national championships. And it's always different and everyone's career is different.

"I'm proud to be standing here. I'm a four-time national champion. I'm a two-time Olympian and no one can take that away from me. And so, whatever people have to say about me, that's their own problem. Because I'm frickin' proud of what I've done and I'm not going to apologize for anything."

Yeah, but how do you really feel, Jeremy?

Abbott's face-plant in Thursday's short program was so horrendous that he said even he had to chuckle when seeing it on Instagram. "A painful chuckle," he added.

Very painful. The fall left the right side of his body bruised from his hip to his ribs. His muscles ached so much Friday that he decided not to attempt his opening quad and reduced two triple jumps to doubles in the long program.

But he competed - something Evgeni Plushenko chose not to do the night before - and skated a wonderful routine. It wasn't anywhere near enough to get him on the podium, but the effort was Olympian.

Now, this isn't to say that Abbott had a great Olympics, or even a good Olympics. He didn't, not by a long shot, even though he is taking home a bronze medal largely earned by his U.S. teammates in the new team competition. But what he says about the difficulty of his sport is true.

Gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu fell twice Friday. With a chance to end the Canadian curse, world champion Patrick Chan also struggled and settled for silver. So did Jason Brown when he had a chance to snag the bronze.

"This is the Olympics. There are a lot of nerves out there," coach Frank Carroll said. "You work your life to get here and it means so much to you getting out there. And now you realize it's do or die. It's very difficult and I think a lot of nerves get in the way.

"There are certain people who go out there and say, 'I can do this, and you watch me - here I go.' And they have that killer instinct. But they're few and far between."

Was it pressure? Probably. But maybe it's something else, too. Maybe the mistakes are simply because the athletes are competing on ice.

Figure skating is difficult. Hell, most of us would be pressed just to step out in public dressed in some of those costumes.

"We have to be constantly aware of every step, every push, every spin," Abbott said. "You have to make sure you hold everything long enough. And everything is worth points so you can never let down for a second and that is really, really difficult. So kudos to everyone who can do it."

Indeed. Applaud the Olympic figure skating medalists. Just don't ridicule the national champions and call them chokers and losers just because they didn't skate their best the one time in four years we bother to pay attention.

"This is a difficult sport," Abbott said, "and if I was to give up every single time I fell down, I would be sitting at home watching these games on television."

Like the rest of us.

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