Jeremy Abbott is a four-time U.S. champion, but he has had little success at the Olympics.
At the 2010 Games in Vancouver, he skated such a poor short program that he had to go to a corner and cry when facing the media. In the short program of the team competition last week, he fell twice and dug his teammates into a hole.
Abbott is determined to make the lessons from those past performances help him skate his best in his final Olympic competition when the men's program starts Thursday. He is an emotional guy -- he occasionally cries when he wins, too -- and his inner doubts are constantly battling his inner strength. Each whisper into his ear, though sometimes with varying volume.
"I think it's the same for every athlete. It's the doubt that drives us to succeed,'' Abbott said. "If we were all confident, we would all be complacent. So there is always that fear and that doubt. You train so hard for that one specific moment, and there's always the chance of success and there's always the chance of failure. It weighs on your mind. But that's what drives every athlete to push harder and work harder and work for more success, and sometimes that positive voice outweighs the other one.
"Even when I don't believe in myself, I believe in my structure. And if I can get back to that, if I can really focus on that, then this [negative] voice gets much quieter and I can believe much more in this [positive] one.''
Abbott said the problem with his team performance was getting just a little disorganized during the day while in the Olympic Village. He says just skipping one bus for another 10 minutes later was enough to throw him off while skating hours later.
So it wasn't just because this is sport and sometimes stuff happens, especially when you're skating on ice?
"We've seen consistencies. We've really been tracking it through the competitive season,'' Abbott said. "The days I have poor performances are much less organized, and the days I perform well are much better organized. It's been interesting to watch that. It seems kind of happenstance when it happens, but when you look back you can see it more clearly.''
To offset that, Abbott has moved out of the village and into a hotel. He says he also is letting coach Yuka Sato and trainer Britta Ottoboni dictate his entire day, each day. "I'm the puppet and Yuka and Britta are my puppeteers,'' he said. "They're controlling the show.''
Despite his poor performance, Abbott won a bronze medal in the team competition, but he probably will have to skate the best programs of his career to make the podium in the men's competition. The favorites are three-time defending world champion Patrick Chan of Canada, Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu, who won the short program in the team event, and four-time Olympic medalist Evgeni Plushenko, who won the long program in the team event. Jason Brown, 19, is the other American skater.
There was considerable speculation that Plushenko, 31, would withdraw from the men's competition due to the many aches and pains from his long career, but he will compete in front of his many fans. Those include both Russian and American fans.
"He's a big idol of mine,'' U.S. pairs skater Nathan Bartholomay said. "I remember sitting on my couch in 1999 and watching him blow just everyone out of the water in Cup of Russia. He's just a tremendous athlete who has been through so much. I shook his hand here and got the nod of approval, so as my idol growing up, it was a really special moment for me. It was a great thing to be on the same sheet of ice in the same week as him.''
If Plushenko also has doubts whispering in his ear, he has certainly overcome them. Whatever he hears inside his head, he'll also hear the roar of an enthusiastic home crowd however he skates and whoever wins.