- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) - Jeremy Abbott was living in Neverland.

The athletes’ village is like summer camp with better bunks and food, and the four-time U.S. figure skating champ was relishing hanging out with his fellow Olympians.

“Time doesn’t exist,” Abbott said of a world straight out of Peter Pan. “You’re a kid forever.”

Fun, but not exactly conducive to peak performance. That lesson arrived with a thud when he tumbled to the ice on his quad and slid into the boards in his short program during the team event last Thursday.

It wasn’t as though Abbott was partying wildly. He was 10 minutes late for breakfast here, missing a bus there. Doesn’t sound like much, but for an athlete as fragile as Abbott has been throughout his career, the little things make a big difference.

All season long, he and his support staff have tracked whether his schedule in the lead-up to an event correlates with his performance in that competition. They’ve discovered that when he can’t stay organized, he struggles on the ice.

“Mushy” is how Abbott describes his first few days in Sochi.

“It made for an unsteady foundation, so when I got in the pressure, it all collapsed,” he said Tuesday.

Perhaps the new team competition, in which he still won a bronze medal thanks to the overall strength of the U.S. squad, will prove the perfect antidote for a skater who has always struggled at major international events. At least Abbott likes to believe that.

“I’ve got some big demons post-nationals and I got to meet them up close and personal and kind of shake their hand,” he said. “Make peace with it and send them on their way.”

The individual men’s competition opens Thursday with the short program. Many of those demons were hatched on that day four years ago in Vancouver when Abbott was so shaky he headed into the free skate buried in 15th place.

He wound up ninth. The teammate he had defeated at the U.S. Championships, Evan Lysacek, won gold.

For Abbott, now 28, each letdown brings more self-analysis, more tinkering to find that mysterious potion that will replicate those stellar performances from nationals on the biggest of stages. The Coloradan had tentative plans before arriving in Sochi to move to a hotel for the last few days before the individual event; after his athletes’ village misadventure, he said, “it became a necessity.”

His coach, Yuka Sato, and his trainer, Britta Ottoboni, devised a strict structure for his days.

“From now on, I’m the puppet, and Yuka and Britta are my puppeteers,” Abbott said.

Every little detail is critical because there will be no more opportunities to get this right: Abbott plans to retire after this season. In the meantime, no expense has been spared. Abbott, who trains in Detroit, has been paying to fly Ottoboni to all his competitions around the world, a major burden for an athlete with no sponsors.

He gets funding from the U.S. Olympic Committee and U.S. Figure Skating, but right before he left for Sochi, Abbott said, he received a call from his financial adviser that his bank account was “horrifically low.” He took money out of his retirement savings to replenish it, and he has several ice shows lined up for after the season to bring in some cash.

After all the sacrifice, that moment in the team event was not his last.

“It’s rare in life to get a second chance in things,” Abbott said. “I’m happy and blessed and pleased to get that.”

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