OMAHA, Neb. -- A solid effort by Jeremy Abbott looked downright spectacular after the splatfest the rest of the U.S. men put on.
With just about everyone else stumbling, bumbling or worse, Abbott's clean but conservative short program was more than enough to give him the lead at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Friday night. The three-time champion finished with 84.10 points, three points ahead of Ross Miner. Joshua Farris, the silver medalist at last year's junior world championships, was third. The free skate is Sunday.
"I've been saying that I came into this championship really bearing the weight of being the current champion, so I really feel like I had a huge target on my back," Abbott said. "It's funny I have this spy-theme program because everybody is gunning for me, and I'm going to take them down one by one."
Actually, they don't need any help. Aside from Miner, they all pretty much took themselves out.
Out of the 20 men, only four managed to get through their program without a major error. And they weren't necessarily botching quadruple jumps or other high-risk tricks. Former two-time junior world champ Adam Rippon fell on a triple flip-triple toe combination, jumps he can do in his sleep. Another fell out of a spin, the skating equivalent of tripping off a curb. And yet another looked as if he got lost on the way to the Olympic trials for swimming that were held here a few months back, belly-flopping onto the ice.
No wonder Olympic champion Evan Lysacek is contemplating a comeback.
Lysacek withdrew from nationals last week, saying he hadn't had enough time to train after hernia surgery in November. Even half-trained he probably still would have done better than most of this field.
While Abbott's program was perfectly respectable, he's going to have to crack it up a notch -- or 10 -- if he wants to contend with Patrick Chan and the Japanese. Abbott didn't even try a quadruple jump -- there really was no need with all the falls -- and he wasn't as mesmerizing as he normally is. Abbott has some of the finest skating skills in the world -- he should be certified as a master craftsman for his edgework -- and his step sequences alone are worth the price of admission.
But he just seemed a little flat, accentuated by the techno music that was a big departure from the classical pieces that have become something of a trademark.
"For me today, it was about getting the job done and then really enjoying the rest of the performance," Abbott said. "Once I got that triple axel done, now we can start to have fun, the job is done and now it's about the performance."
Miner was third the last two years, and his bronze medal at NHK Trophy showed he was angling for an upgrade here.
Miner was clearly enjoying himself, smiling and racing around the rink with more energy than the Energizer Bunny. He doesn't have the polish that Abbott does, but he made up for it with his enthusiasm.
His only flaw was a slightly underrotated quadruple salchow. But at least he was willing to risk it.
Earlier Friday, Olympic silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White won the short dance with a career-best 79.02 points.