It wasn’t easy growing up as a boy figure skater on the ice in a hockey town, according to the mother of U.S. men’s figure skating national champion and soon-to-be-Olympian Jeremy Abbott.
“I don’t want to even get into some of the stories,” said Allison Scott. “One of the things we always told him was that success would be the best revenge.”
Aspen-born Abbott has officially achieved that, going from underdog to household name in the figure skating world last weekend when he turned in two flawless performances that stunned the crowd and the judges to win the U.S. Nationals.
In both the long program and short program, Abbott demonstrated his ability to blend sport and athletics. He showed he has the quadruple spin move down as much or more than any other skater, and he did it all with seamless fluidity.
Those from Aspen who have followed Abbott’s career knew he had the talent. It was in Aspen that Abbott discovered his love for the sport and began honing his passion. But something changed last spring when the Vancouver-bound skater moved for the second time for the sake of his sport — this time from Colorado Springs to the Detroit area to train with a new coach.
It was the first time the 24-year-old has lived completely on his own, and the shift forced him to grow up, according to the skater and people close to him.
“The move last year was solely his and that’s why he’s able to be where he is,” said Peggy Behr, Abbott’s coach in Aspen from age 7 until he moved to Colorado Springs after the eighth grade. “You can’t be a true champion if you are not at that emotional level.”
With the out-of-state commitment and a new coach, the former Japanese national champion and two time Olympian Yuka Sato, Abbott had to take responsibility for every detail of his own life — everything from training and diet to paying the bills on time. It bred a new level of confidence “that really carries over onto the ice,” Abbott said on Friday.
“I’ve been skating for myself, taking full responsibility for myself, win or lose,” Abbott said. “It’s all really empowering.”
Scott said the commitment is real, and it’s “mind numbing in its intensity — as it is for any athlete in any sport when you have that much on the line.
“There’s no blowing off practice, not caring about what you eat, staying out late, going out drinking. You just can’t do that and expect to reap the rewards you’ve been working for.”
Scott tells of the long road the family has taken to get Abbott to where he is today. When she returned to her job at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs on Tuesday from Spokane, where the nationals were held this year, to find an inbox full of congratulations messages and an American flag draped across her door, it all felt worth it.
“Words cannot describe,” Scott said. “How do you think I feel? This has been 20 years of our lives.”
The story starts when Abbott, at four years old, witnessed a performance by 1980 men’s figure skating Olympic gold medalist Robin Cousins at the Aspen Ice Garden, which used to hold figure skating exhibitions during Wintersköl.
“He turned around and said, ‘I want to do that,’” Scott said. Soon after, Abbott was in basic skill skating classes with the Aspen Skating Club.
By age 7, Abbott began his work with Behr, herself a former competitive skater. She recalls the first time she saw Abbott on the ice.
“I remember thinking, ‘That kid is really talented,’” Behr said. “You could see it immediately. He just enjoyed skating. We always called him happy feet.”
As Abbott began competing more often in farther away places, the family made one of its first big changes as stepdad Alan Scott took a job with United Airlines, which allowed Abbott and family to fly free to his competitions.
By age 13, Behr had recognized that Abbott needed an environment more dedicated to skating. Abbott relocated to Colorado Springs, living at first with a host family and then with his mom and stepdad, and began skating with the Broadmoor Skating Club near the U.S. Olympic Team training facilities in the city.
“Even when he left, I was happy he moved away because he was so talented. I thought he needed to be in a training atmosphere,” Behr said.
“The family hung in there long enough to see it through,” she said.
An unusual sport
So what makes Abbott so good at the sport?
“Why do painters paint?” his mother answers in reply.
“It’s not nature, it’s not nurture, it’s something beyond that,” Scott said. “It’s something in my son. All we could do was go along for the ride.”
Abbott can answer the question a bit better, but there’s still a sense of wonderment.
“I became attached to it when I was little,” he said. “I was fascinated by the combination of sport and artistry. It’s an extremely unusual sport and I love that.
“I don’t know what keeps me coming back to it every day — it’s something inside. I’ve always known it was something I wanted to do. I’ll be a part of it for the rest of my life.”
Abbott has been laying low over the last week since the nationals, which he described as “emotionally draining.” But he’s ready to restart his training regimen before the Olympics. He skates his short program on Tues., Feb. 16 and his long program on Thurs., Feb. 18, the first week of the Vancouver Games. His short program will be the same as the nationals, he reported, while his long program will add an additional triple spin.
Abbott said he’s trying to go about his routine the same as he would any day, Olympics or no.
“Nothing is going to change,” he said. “It’s all about training, time put in on the ice, making sure it’s good quality, continuing to push.”