BOSTON – Call it a comeback. For Jeremy Abbott, the three-time U.S. champion who smashed a record and brought TD Garden to its feet Friday night, it had been a return long in the making.
Abbott executed an unrivaled performance and took the lead at the 2014 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships. He garnered an unprecedented score of 99.86 and set a new record men’s short program national record in the process.
"I could hear people chanting behind me, saying ‘100!’ I guess 99.86 is pretty darn close," Abbott said. "Considering my previous highest score was a 90, I’m pretty darn happy. I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks."
Having struggled since his last win in the 2012 championships, Abbott presented a near-flawless program Friday, including a difficult quad toe-triple toe combination, to make his bid loud and clear.
Now, he's back in the running for another Olympic Winter Games.
"After my 2012 season, we kind of re-vamped everything, putting all the cogs in place, and made sure all the mechanisms around me are all working properly and that they’re all working in sync," Abbott said.
"When things didn’t work at competition, I believed in what we had done and I kept plugging at it, and it paid off tonight."
Skating to "Lilies of the Valley" by Jun Miyake, the 28-year-old who finished ninth at the 2010 Games set his record nearly two and half hours after Richard Dornbush had set his own earlier with a score of 92.04.
Dornbush, the 2011 U.S. silver medalist, finished second while Jason Brown took third, scoring 87.47 with a clean and energetic program that did not include a quad but did put him in the position for one of two Olympic spots.
"I think the whole season has pushed every guy to just really push themselves to their limits because anything is possible at this event," said Brown, who earned a bronze medal at November’s Trophee Eric Bompard in his first season on the senior grand prix circuit. "Everyone has such a great shot to make the team and everyone has such a great shot to get on that medal podium and to be there."
Reigning U.S. champion Max Aaron finished fourth with 86.95.
Aaron started the season defending his title at the 2013 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic and added a bronze medal to the count at Skate America. He then finished a disappointing seventh at the 2013 NHK Trophy.
"I wanted to come out here and prove to myself that this season is not over and I want to continue on a great path and seeing where I land with the best of the men here," Aaron said.
Aaron, who traditionally preforms best in the free skate, said he expects Sunday's long program to present the real test.
"The long program is where it sets the men apart from the boys,” he said. “That’s what I always say because it’s the long program and there’s a lot of great tricks and I have the arsenal in the jump content."
Aaron finished fourth in last year’s short program to pull up into first place after his long.
With 2010 Olympic Winter Games gold medalist Evan Lysacek out with an injury and with two-time Olympian Johnny Weir having retired in October, the competing men have been given a clean chance at Sochi.
U.S. Figure Skating is scheduled to reveal its nominations for the 2014 Games Sunday.
"With the men, how they’re skating today, it’s just sending a message that whoever is going to represent the U.S. in Sochi, we’re going to make a big impact no matter who it is," Aaron said. "No matter where we are."