BOSTON — Jeremy Abbott was reminding himself to feel his legs, the pressure of the moment weighing down on him.
Then he heard the chants from the crowd: “5... 4... 3...” Abbott hurried to the center of the ice, and when his music started just before the countdown clock expired, he thought, “Thank God I’m not disqualified.”
Better than that: He’s a four-time U.S. figure skating champion and a repeat Olympian.
Abbott steeled himself through the nerves in his free skate Sunday to win at his final nationals. Teenager Jason Brown was second, earning the Americans’ second spot in Sochi.
For a skater who has turned in some brilliant performances at this event, Abbott’s program Sunday was far from his best — but more than enough.
“It wasn’t a perfect skate, but, God, I enjoyed every moment of it,” he said.
Defending champion Max Aaron was third. The top-two finishers didn’t automatically qualify for the Olympics, but U.S. Figure Skating officials stuck with the standings in picking the team later Sunday.
Skating last, Abbott had a cushion of nearly 13 points on Aaron after the short program, and once he landed a quadruple toe loop to open the free skate, the Olympic berth was in his grasp.
Since winning his last U.S. title two years ago, the 28-year-old Abbott had struggled as he overhauled his training regimen. But a superb short program Friday put him back on top in his last season before retiring.
“Because the short program was so magical, I knew that he was going to have a little bit of a struggle,” said his coach, Yuka Sato. “But I thought he managed himself so well.”
Abbott fought to land a few jumps and reduced the rotation on a couple of others; the only truly shaky moment, though, came before he even began. Abbott later thanked the fans for their assist.
“I’ve never cut it that close before,” he said. “I was starting to feel a little overwhelmed. I was just trying to remind myself of my checklist ... feel my legs.”
When it was over, he skated slowly across the ice, sobbing.
“I knew that I was going to cry today — good or bad,” he said.
Abbott is the 11th man to win at least four U.S. championships, a list that includes Dick Button, Scott Hamilton, Brian Boitano and Todd Eldredge. He beat Evan Lysacek at the 2010 nationals before the last Olympics, only to finish ninth when his countryman captured gold in Vancouver.
Now Abbott gets a chance at redemption at the Sochi Games.
Brown receives the rock star treatment from fans, and he certainly looks the part with his long ponytail and sequined costumes. He turned 19 less than a month ago, but he’s a natural showman.
Every move was perfectly in time to his Irish stepdance music, as Brown played to the crowd the whole way. People were on their feet to give him a standing ovation before he had even completed his final spin.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything more,” Brown said. “I went out there, I was so trained and I was ready to fight for whatever I could. That’s what I did. I enjoyed every moment. I enjoyed the crowd. They could not have been more responsive, more generous, more exciting.”
He didn’t try any quads. But other than under-rotating one triple axel, Brown landed all his jumps with ease.
As he waited for his marks, Brown rested his head on his coach’s shoulder, overwhelmed by his performance. He squinted at his score in feigned disbelief when the number was posted, putting him temporarily in first place.
And when Richard Dornbush, second after the short program, pulled up short on several jumps, Brown was guaranteed to finish no worse than second. Dornbush fell to fifth.
The world junior silver medalist, Brown was eighth at last year’s senior nationals. He was thinking about the 2018 Games, but his coach kept saying 2014.
A strong fall season gave notice that he was a contender for an Olympic berth.
“Midway through the season I started to believe it,” Brown said. “Over time, I got more and more confident that it could be a reality.”
Brown’s score of 182.61 won the free skate. Abbott had a total of 274.27 points, while Brown had 270.08 and Aaron 260.44.
Aaron landed one quad salchow and put his hand down on another, not enough to move into the top two after finishing the short program in fourth.
“I really want the best men to go, and if it’s not me, it’s not me,” he said.