Abbott, Lysacek look towards World gold

Evan LysacekWhen the men’s competition opens at the World Championships, March 22-29 in Los Angeles, two American men are expected to be near the top of the standings.

Jeremy Abbott is the Grand Prix Final Champion while Evan Lysacek is the two-time World Championship medalist hoping to save a disappointing season. Both have what it takes to win their first World title this year.

The men’s short program is Wednesday and free skate is Thursday at the Staples Center.

National champion Abbott leads a strong American squad that also includes U.S. silver medalist Brandon Mroz and bronze medalist Lysacek. The men are ranked third, 16th and seventh respectively in the Ice Network world rankings.

Abbott is coming into the World Championships after a stellar season that began with a win at Cup of China. He later became the first American man to win the Grand Prix Final, setting the highest score ever recorded by an American man.

“My season so far this year has been incredible,” said Abbott, who won his first national title in January. “I couldn’t have asked for more nor did I expect what happened.”

After finishing fourth at the U.S. Championships last season, Abbott was named the first alternate for the World Championships. He ended up competing in the place of Lysacek — who withdrew because of a fluke injury sustained during a regular practice session — and finished 11th.

“To say I’m pleased is quite a bit of an understatement,” said Abbott, who was fifth at the Four Continents Championships. “It’s a great feeling going to Worlds this year and actually qualifying.”

Lysacek hopes to put on a show for the hometown crowd when he returns to the World Championships. The two-time World bronze medalist relocated to southern California after graduating from high school in 2003.

The two-time U.S. champion comes into Worlds having finished third at January’s Nationals, following a fall on the opening quadruple toe during his free skate. Lysacek rebounded to win the silver medal at Four Continents with two near-flawless programs, including a free skate with the quad.

Lysacek started the season with third-place finishes at Skate America and Skate Canada. With those performances, he was unable to qualify for the Grand Prix Final, something he had done in the two previous seasons. He won bronze at the 2007 Final.

“I had a little slow start but I’m hoping to peak by the World Championships,” Lysacek said after Four Continents. “This was just a good stepping stone for me. The competition [Four Continents] has changed so much. A lot of the top athletes would pass and not come, and they would take a rest and get ready for Worlds. And now it’s become sort of the superpower competition for the men and for the ladies.”

Lysacek is among the most experienced skaters on the men’s side. In 2006 he finished fourth overall at the Winter Games but went on to win a second consecutive bronze at Worlds.

Mroz comes to Los Angeles as a newcomer on the senior international scene. In his only season as a senior skater, his results include seventh at Skate Canada, fifth at Trophee Eric Bompard and eighth at Four Continents, where he landed a quad toe.

Mroz capped off his junior career with a fourth-place showing at the 2008 World Junior Championships. The season also included gold medals at Junior Grand Prix Austria and Germany, silver at the Junior Grand Prix Final, and another silver at the U.S. Championships.

International competitors include France’s Brian Joubert, who is looking to regain his 2007 World Championship title after finishing second last year. Joubert, the reigning European champion, currently is the top-ranked skater in the world.

Also competing is Canada’s Patrick Chan, who won Four Continents, and Japan’s Takahiko Kozuka, the Four Continents bronze medalist. Chan (No. 2) finished fifth at the Grand Prix Final while Kozuka (No. 5) was second.

Reigning World champion Jeffrey Buttle of Canada retired before the start of the season. Also missing from the competition is reigning World bronze medalist Johnny Weir (No. 6) of the United States, who won the bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final but did not qualify for the World team because of his fifth-place performance at nationals.

To qualify three American men for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, the placements of the two highest finishing U.S. men cannot exceed 13. At the 2008 Worlds, Weir finished third, Stephen Carriere was 10th and Abbott 11th, just enough to qualify three men for the 2009 event.

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