SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Adam Rippon knew what was at stake as he waited for Friday’s short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
It was time to put up or shut up for a skater who had fallen far short of the expectations created by successive world junior titles in 2008 and 2009.
“I’ve felt a little defeated before the short program in years past,” Rippon said. “I had to go out and fight for my career.”
At 22, after his second coaching change in two seasons, Rippon won the battle with himself and took second in the short program to two-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott, who became his training partner this season.
“I’m so happy for him,” Abbott said. “I really do think this is his year to break through.”
With sure, strong jumps, high-octane footwork and eye-catching spins, Rippon scored 82.94 points, more than 10 better than his previous best at nationals. Abbott had 90.23, also a record for him in a U.S. competition.
“The expectations were hard to deal with at first,” Rippon said. “I had a lot of good results as a junior, and I felt like I was supposed to have the same success right away as a senior.”
Instead, Rippon finished seventh, fifth and fifth in his first three appearances at senior nationals, with extremely poor short programs in two of the three. He began working with the husband-wife coaching team of Jason Dungjen and Yuka Sato in suburban Detroit before this season but didn’t start following their advice until late October.
“After last season, I lost a lot of my confidence,” Rippon said. “I didn’t know who I was as a skater, and I hadn’t dealt with the doubts."
Dungjen and Sato had turned around the career of Alissa Czisny last season, when she won her second U.S. title a year after having finished 10th. They have coached Abbott for three seasons, which include his second U.S. title in 2010 and a stunningly lackluster fourth place in 2011, which cost him a spot on the U.S. team at the world championships.
“It was pretty crushing,’’ Abbott said.
The U.S. performances at the 2011 worlds earned the men just two places for this year’s event. Abbott has all but clinched one, but Rippon has a lead of just 2.28 over Armin Mahbanoozadeh going into Sunday’s free skate.
This was the first time since 1996 that the reigning men’s national champion had retired before the next U.S. Championships in a non-Olympic year. Ryan Bradley, who won in 2011, left competitive skating after finishing 13th at the world championships.
Last year’s silver medalist, Richard Dornbush, may have wished he didn’t come back. Dornbush fell on his first jump and then utterly fell apart in one of the worst performances ever by a skilled skater. He popped – or did just one revolution – his next two planned triple jumps.
It might have been Beethoven’s revenge on Dornbush for skating to a techno-shlock version of excerpts from the monumental Fifth Symphony.
Jason Brown of Highland Park, who won the Junior Grand Prix Final last month, is within reach of a medal despite once again backing off an attempt at a triple axel, a litmus test jump for senior men’s skaters. He finished seventh Friday with 75.68 points.
Brown and his coach, Kori Ade, vowed after he was ninth in his senior national debut last season he would do the triple axel this year. In December, they said he would try it at the Junior Grand Prix Final and at nationals. Then they shelved it until next year.
“Kori decided all year we have done this (no triple axel), and we don’t feel nationals is the best time to try it,” Brown said. “I have been feeling really confident with my skating so far, and she thinks we should put it in when it is really ready to go.
“It’s definitely a struggle. We’ve been working on this for so long and hopefully one day it will come. You know, it’s hard.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun