Jeremy Abbott: “I wanted to find a piece of music where I could just breathe in the program and relax into the choreography” ¬†

November 25, 2011
By Nadin Vernon, Susanne Schütz
Photos © Susanne Schütz & Tanya Drubetskaya

Jeremy Abbott was in Paris last weekend (en route to Moscow), as some of his teammates competed at the Trophée Eric Bompard. Having won the gold at Cup of China, he used the time in Bercy to train for his second Grand Prix, the Rostelecom Cup of Russia, which takes place this weekend.

When the GPs were set up, wasn't it possible to be assigned for the same ones as your training colleagues?

Actually I asked for America and Japan or Canada and France and I ended up with the two I didn't ask for, but timing wise it worked really well. I mean I asked for the other ones so that I could have one Grand Prix, then two weeks, another Grand Prix, roughly 2-3 weeks and then the final instead of doing them back to back, but it's worked out really well.

How has your training situation changed since Adam Rippon (photo right) joined your camp, and what did you think when you first found out he was going to train with you?

It's been much different. It's been very positive, I think. At first I was a little reluctant, I mean I was happy to have Adam come but I was a little reluctant just because Yuka and Jason have so many students all at once. When I first went there it was just me and I had 100% of the attention all the time, and then last season Alissa switched to Yuka and Jason as well and so it was a little more split. I was still working with Yuka and Jason every day but just a little less time and so then this season we also got Alexe Gilles and Valentina Marchei and Haruka Imai and Adam and a couple others and so I was just a little concerned about how it was going to work with their time, working with all of us. And it actually has worked very well. They still work very closely together, but it's become a little more separated whereas I'm Yuka's main focus and Adam and Alissa are Jason's main focus. And so I don't work with Jason every day as I was but I still work with him regularly, 2-3 days a week and whenever I need help I just ask him and he'll take a look at whatever I'm doing. So in some ways I kind of miss having both of them around at all times, but I really enjoyed having a higher level of training and energy because the first two seasons I was there it was very quiet and now there's a lot more energy and so the atmosphere at the rink is much more exciting and it's nice to train in that sort of environment.

And what is it like to train with one of your main competitors every day?

It's funny, at first I wasn't sure how it was going to be, and then when he came it was really motivating and now I just skate with him every day so I don't even think about it anymore. I'd say for the first month or two there definitely was competition and I really felt like I had to push a little harder, and now I see him every day and he does a good program and I'm like 'good job', give him a pat on the back and I think it goes both ways. It's nice to see one of my closest competitors in the US every day, because then I know what he's doing and I think it pushes him and it pushes me but I never feel like we're in direct competition with each other so it's not like this very aggressive atmosphere. We're very amenable towards each other which is very nice.

That's great, especially considering the rivalry there is at US Nationals. How confident are you that things will work out better this season than they did last season?

I feel very confident in my abilities this season and I have two programs that I believe in completely, these are very strong programs and I really enjoy skating both of them, and for the most part we've gotten all the equipment issues worked out that I had last season which is allowing me to train at a much higher level. Last season was so hard because I was trying to train like I had before and really push hard, but because of the issues I was having with my equipment I couldn't. So I felt like a hamster on a wheel running as fast as I could and getting nowhere, and now I feel like I'm able to really put a lot into my training. I'm not where I want to be yet, I feel like I got set back a little bit with everything that happened last year. I had a couple of similar issues this year, but we got them resolved really quickly and I feel like I am where I should be, I'm not where I want to be but I definitely think that I'm headed in the right direction going towards Nationals and Worlds. I feel very confident about my chances of being in the Worlds team this season. I think that last season I didn't skate great at our National Championships, but I definitely don't think I should have been left off of that team. And I know that a lot of people in US figure skating and the ISU felt that way as well.

Why do you think you were left off last season?

The rules are not that the top three of our nation go, so I don't know. We have a committee that meets after Nationals to decide the team and I don't know what happened in those meetings. The Champion is the only one that's guaranteed a spot and then after that it's based on that Nationals results, and then the previous World Championships and then the previous Nationals and then the International season from that year.

But you placed 5th at Worlds that year.

I was 5th at Worlds and I was the previous National Champion and I was the highest ranked on the Grand Prix, so I don't know what happened. I definitely didn't deserve to be top three at our Nationals but I definitely felt that I deserved to be on that World team and was very upset that I was left off it. But you know, actually in hindsight, I'm very happy because of what happened and the way Worlds was pushed back, it was frustrating at the time to feel like I didn't have full support, but I'm actually grateful that that happened because I got more time to rest and more time to really plan out this season and make sure that everything is set properly and that I'm doing the things that I need to be doing. So, on the one hand it wasn't really good, on the other hand it was really good. I definitely feel that everything happens for a reason and so now I feel like I'm on the right track for the season and I'm excited to see where it goes.

Let's talk a little bit about your programs, starting with the short. Why swing?

After Four Continents, Yuka and I started talking a little bit about this season and she asked if I'd had any ideas and I told her that I wanted to do Swing. I just had this feeling that I wanted to do something up tempo, I wanted to work with another dance choreographer, like I worked with Antonio Najarro the previous season. I wanted to do another dance-themed program and I wanted it to not be so serious and just be a lot of fun, and swing and jive were the first thing that came to mind. And she loved the idea and so contacted Kristy Yamaguchi, because she did Dancing with the Stars. Then we were put in touch with Lacey Schwimmer whose family is really big in the swing community and her dad Buddy agreed to work on the program. So I went to LA and I ended up meeting Lacey's brother Benji, who was the Season 2 winner of So you think you can Dance US, and he kind of hopped on board of the project as well and it ended up being Buddy and Benji who choreographed this short program. But I didn't have music picked out when I met them, so we picked it there and they taught me some basic swing steps off the ice and then we went on the ice to see what we could translate. It was an interesting experience because some things definitely worked and a lot of things didn't. It's very steppy and hoppy and it's hard to do, to glide and to do all that, so we kind of had to fake it a little bit but I think in working with dance choreographers you're able to create something that's a little more special. It's a very difficult program and it's very unique. And I think something like that stands out very much.

And what did you think when you saw some of your competitors do the suspender action as well? It's like a trend this season (laughs all round)

It's so funny because I never know what anybody else is doing and I always start thinking about what I want to do the next season during the previous season. So I had the idea for swing and I went to California in early June, and they had the idea of the suspenders as it's not been done in figure skating at all and it's such a co-incidence that so many people came out with these swing programs and the suspenders, and I was like 'how did this happen'? I mean the same happened last year. I wanted to do the Tango/Flamenco program and then everyone did it. I keep following the trend when I'm trying to set the trend. (laughs)

Do you meet the choreographers once and that's it, or do you meet again so they can keep an eye on how the program is developing over the season?

I spent almost two weeks in LA when we first choreographed the program and then went back when I did a show in LA in August. So we had another couple of days and then they've seen videos and given me some tips over the phone or via text message. It's hard with everyone's schedules to coordinate, going there, coming here, so we stay in touch in whatever manner that we can, mainly through technology.

Let's talk a little bit about the long program then. Did the Kerrs inspire you to skate to this piece?

(leans in and whispers) Actually I didn't know the Kerrs had skated to it. I found out after, I picked the music and worked with the musician to do the guitar and then I was just youtubing, and I found their program and I was like Ooops. Actually I did know that they had skated to it, but I thought it was an exhibition, I didn't realise it was their competitive program. So it didn't really register.

So what made you choose the music?

It's actually kind of funny how it came about. I've been wanting to do a long program to Claire de Lune for a long time. Typically female skaters skate to it and people generally think of it as very feminine music, and so I wanted to take it and make a very masculine program to this music that's thought of feminine and really show the contrast. But Yuka had ended up skating to it on the Stars on Ice tour and I didn't want to do the same piece that my coach had just skated to, and actually I'm very happy because I think four different men in the US are skating to it this year, so I'm glad I didn't pick that. But I wanted to find a piece of music where I could just skate and breathe and really enjoy the flow of the music. A piece of music that is very calm.

How do you combine that with competition, because when you are nervous I can imagine it to be quite hard to convey that calm flow over the ice?

Actually that's why I wanted to pick something that is very calming because I get very nervous in competition and very tense, and so I wanted to find a piece of music where I could just breathe in the program and relax into the choreography and really just focus the choreography, on the edge and the skating. So my next thought was to use a guitar version of Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah, or rather have it composed as it doesn't exist. Because I love the song and I felt that a beautiful guitar version of that would be incredible, but it ended up becoming too much work so I was just listening to music and came across the Exogenesis and I loved the piano and I loved the strings and then it had a bit of a rock n' roll edge to it. And it was actually perfect because we didn't even need to edit it, it was already 4'40. We just had to have the middle section composed with guitar because it's a vocal, but that was like a minute and a half maybe, and Yuka has a friend in Canada who worked with us to do the guitar and that's the end result.

You showed the program once in competition, does it feel comfortable yet?

Yes and no. I think because Yuka and I choreographed it, it does feel like a part of me, but it also still feels pretty new and I feel like I have a lot of polishing to do. It still feels very raw. I think my focus this summer was more about adjusting my technique and getting my boots fixed and everything because of all the issues I had last year, my technique just got changed because it had to. In order to do jumps I had to muscle it a lot more, and use a lot more upper body because I couldn't rely on my feet and my edges, and so this summer my focus really was to get my jumps back. So now I'm finally starting to just train the program. I mean I've been doing run-throughs for my stamina, but it's more about training the detail and the intricacy. The program has been more consistent than it was before China, I just hope that with each month and each competition it gets better.

Let's talk a little bit about the quad. Everybody seems to be doing it, even in the short.

In terms of men's skating right now, it's just ridiculous. It's really impressive, the level of skating. So many men are doing the quad now and there is a larger group of skaters that have really started skating and the artistry has improved and yes, I think men's skating is one of the more interesting or entertaining sides of the sport to watch, for sure. I think maybe I'm biased (laughs) over the other disciplines, but I think it's the most exciting discipline to watch. Fortunately and unfortunately (laughs), but the level of competition is incredible. Every quad has been tried at this GP series except the Axel.


As for me, whether the quad happens or not, it's just one element and I still have seven other jumping passes, 12 other jumps to do. I think in the past I've put too much emphasis on the quad, so if it didn't happen my focus got really thrown off. This season I've really started to make it one element, so if it happens it's great. If it doesn't happen, I still have a whole four minutes and 20 seconds to go and I think I was really happy with that in China. It wasn't a perfect program by any means, I went down on the quad but I kept my focus together for the rest of the program, I didn't let it affect the program and that's really been my goal in training and for competition this season. Not to give it so much weight in my head, it's just another element in my program.

Do you work with a sports psychologist at all?

Yes, I work with a sports psychologist, she's been really great. I see her once a week, I've been trying to train my mind as much as I try to train my body and just keep everything together.

So if we look into the future, is being in Sochi on your agenda?

I'm reluctant to say that I'm going to be going to Sochi because who knows what's going to happen in the future, but I mean that's definitely a goal of mine. I want to go back to the Olympics. Vancouver was an incredible experience, maybe not so much on the ice, but just the whole experience itself and I would love to have another chance to go to an Olympics and be more physically and mentally prepared for that and just go out and skate incredibly. I don't know, I mean, would I love to be an Olympic Champion? Of course! But that's not what's driving me to skate, that's not why I skate. If I go to another Olympics, I just want to go out and put out something memorable. From where I'm standing now and from where I'm looking at, my goal wouldn't be to be Olympic Champion. Would I want that? Of course, who doesn't? But to go to another Olympics and just have another opportunity to skate at that level and to show something much more solid than what I did in Vancouver would be incredible.

And have you thought about what may come after your competitive skating career?

I don't know, since I was little I have always known that I wanted to be involved in skating. I'd love to choreograph, I really enjoy it. And I love movement and I love skating and music, so I'd love to kind of breed a new level of skater. And I'd really love to tour, unfortunately the shows in the US are kind of non-existent now, but I'd love to continue performing past competing. I love to perform, I love creating something on the ice and I think exhibition gives you more freedom to do that. So I would love to have a career like Stéphane or Yuka for that matter. She had a fifteen-year professional career, that would be a dream come true if I could do that.

You mentioned that there are less shows in the US now, how do you think figure skating ranks as a popular sport these days?

I think the numbers in terms of people skating in the US has gone up, I don't know that viewership has. I do think that a lot of it people don't understand, so it's hard for the average viewer to just turn on the TV and enjoy it, because they don't understand what's happening. It's hard to get a following. I hate to say it but I do think that it's a little antiquated and people do think of it as old-fashioned and outdated. They're more into watching the X Games and Extreme Sports. For us involved in the sport it's changed tremendously but I think to the outside person watching, it's the same that it's always been just with a more complex judging system. I don't think we need to change the sport, maybe just the way it's marketed. I think that figure skating is an incredible sport, first and foremost we are athletes, I used to train at the Olympic Training Centre and we trained just as hard as any other Olympics athlete. But I think the special thing about our sport is that it's also art. It's very athletic and it's very competitive and it's very difficult, but at the same time it's beautiful and artistic and people can be moved by it and emotionally touched by it. I think that it could have the popularity that it used to have, I don't know how, but I definitely think it could and it should because it's an incredible sport.

On this note, I would like to thank Jeremy for his remarkable contribution to the sport, and wish him the best of luck for his Grand Prix in Russia and beyond.


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