11:51 AM EDT, March 30, 2012
At face value, the results were just plain poor.
Three-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott ninth, training mate Adam Rippon tenth in Friday's short program at the World Figure Skating Championships at Nice, France.
That adds up to 19. The two U.S. men must have 13 or fewer to recapture the third spot at worlds that was lost a year ago.
The chances of that happening in Saturday's free skate seem pretty slim.
So is there any way to see this glass half full instead of half empty?
Maybe with rosé-colored glasses and a little too much of that wine that goes down so easily on warm days in the south of France.
Optimist: Abbott (74.85) is only 5.11 points from sixth-place Florent Amodio of France, a difference that can disappear with one jumping mistake from the skater ahead. Rippon (73.55) is 6.41 points behind sixth, and ditto for how the gap can be erased.
Realist (that's me): Why should anyone expect either U.S. skater to do significantly better in Saturday's free skate?
Pessimist: Nah, I won't go there now.
(For the record, Canada's Patrick Chan, the reigning champion, leads at 89.41, having made up for a stepout on his opening quad toe and no combination by turning his final jumping pass into a triple-triple. Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic, with a huge quad salchow, is second at 87.67. Daisuke Takahashi of Japan, the 2010 champion, recovered from two errors on his opening combo to get third at 85.72.)
Abbott seems pathologically incapable of carrying the terrific skating he does at nationals into a global championship.
After his first U.S. title (2009), he was 11th at worlds. After the second (2010), he was ninth at the Olympics (15th in the short) and fifth at a worlds where the field was weakened by the absence of four men who beat him in the Winter Games.
Now, after the third U.S. title, he made a hash of his opening combination, with a fall on the second jump, and turned a triple lutz into a double. That left him with a score more than eight points below his season best while five of the eight ahead in the standings recorded season bests.
And Abbott seemed utterly mystified by why it happened.
"I was mentally, physically, emotionally ready to go out there and bring it and win," he said. "I know I’ve had performances like this before, but I’ve never been more prepared for a competition. I really believed in my heart of hearts that this was my moment."
(Abbott, like Alissa Czisny - 16th in the women's short - made an utterly needless journey to a competition in the Netherlands three weeks ago, sending him back and forth across the pond twice with worlds looming. U.S. Figure Skating gave him and Czisny that international assignment. How has that worked out?)
Rippon, who has struggled to realize the potential shown with consecutive world junior titles in 2008-09, actually thought he skated well. That isn't encouraging, given his stepouts on the landings of the triple axel and triple lutz jumps.
"The thing I can take away from this program is that I feel it’s the best I’ve performed it all season," Rippon said, adding a few seconds later, "It’s unfortunate about the mistakes, but I did my best to keep the program going. If I take the mistakes away, I feel it was a strong program."
Pigs don't fly.
You can't take the mistakes away.
The good news is Johnny Weir tweeted Friday morning he was skipping an ice gala to train for his comeback.
The better news would be for USFS boss David Raith to get down on his hands and knees and beg Evan Lysacek to come back.
There is no guarantee either Weir or Lysacek will be the answer.
But Lysacek almost always matched or exceeded expectations in big events - first and fourth in two Olympics; first, fifth, third, third in his four senior worlds, with the fifth in 2007 the only sub-par effort.
And now U.S. men are left to make silk purses out of sows' ears.
"I tried to stay in the moment and enjoy the performance as best I could, smile and get the audience clapping and enjoying their time," Abbott said Friday. "I did have fun, but when I hit the end, and it sinks in, I was disappointed."
For Abbott, such disappointment is sub-par for the course.
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