BOSTON – With reigning Olympic champion Evan Lysacek injured, the U.S. Figure Skating Championships was billed as a wide-open event for the men's competition. The two spots for the Sochi Games could very well go to anyone in the 19-skater field, it was thought.
That belief held true for one night's worth of short programs on Friday.
Jeremy Abbott, a three-time U.S. champion who's struggled on the international stage, brought down the TD Garden with a performance to remember after scoring a 99.86 for a new Nationals record. Richard Dornbush set the old mark just 2½ hours earlier with a flawless skate that earned the 2011 U.S. silver medalist a 92.04. Jason Brown, a former U.S. junior champion with solid Grand Prix results this season, stands in third place at 87.47.
So where is defending U.S. champion Max Aaron?
The hockey-playing 21-year-old from Scottsdale, Ariz., did not disappoint with his short program but he hid his frustration well in front of the media after drawing a fourth-place 86.95.
Adam Rippon, the other top contender for the two U.S. spots for Sochi, fell during his program, but his routine's degree of difficulty saved him with a score of 77.58 to put him in sixth. Joshua Farris is fifth at 78.37.
The first group featured the crowd-pleasing performance of Dornbush. The Corona, Calif., native unexpectedly set the bar to record heights, nailing all of his jumps – namely a quad Salchow – to draw a standing ovation.
The second standing ovation went to Brown. The 19-year-old from Highland Park, Ill., smoothly landed his jumps early, including a triple flip-triple toeloop, and rode the momentum all the way to the second place behind Dornbush.
The third standing O went to the 28-year-old Abbott, who is aiming for the Olympics one last time before retiring at season's end. With three U.S. titles, the Nationals has never been a problem for Abbott, and his confidence going into the weekend showed with a near-perfect skate.
The two berths on the U.S. team will be announced after the men's long program on Sunday.
Three women will get to represent Team USA in Sochi. Gracie Gold, last year's runner-up at the U.S. championships, figures to be a lock after dominating Thursday's short program to carry a five-plus-point lead into Saturday's free skate over surprising 15-year-old Polina Edmunds (66.75) and Sochi Games veteran Mirai Nagasu (65.44).
Two-time defending U.S. champion Ashley Wagner also figures to have a spot sewn up despite a disappointing fourth-place showing Thursday. The 22-year-old's résumé, which includes a second-place finish at Skate America and a Grand Prix victory in France this season, should be too much for the selection committee to pass up.
On Friday, Wagner wasn't taking anything for granted.
"I am here to get to that podium. I am here to earn that spot," said Wagner, who is still haunted by her failure to make the Olympics four years ago. "I don't want to feel like I took away someone's spot."