OMAHA, Neb. — Never mess with the guy who knows how to rumble.
Little-known Max Aaron won his first title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Sunday and helped knock down three-time champion Jeremy Abbott to the last step on the podium. With two quadruple jumps and an arsenal's worth of other tricks in his West Side Story program, don't count the 20-year-old upstart out at the world championships in March, either.
Aaron screamed and shook his fists when he finished his program, then slid across the ice giving a Tiger Woods-like fist pump. (He was wearing red, appropriately, and it was Sunday.) When his marks were posted, Aaron's jaw dropped and the audience roared. He won the free skate in a rout to jump from fourth to first, and finished with 255 points overall, almost four better than Ross Miner.
Abbott, who had won three of the last four U.S. titles, dropped to third after a disappointing and flawed free skate.
Aaron was the U.S. junior champ two years ago, but has done little of note since then. Skating first of the top men, however, he wasted no time showing he intended to make a run at the title. He opened with two quadruple salchows, the first in combination with a double toe loop, and did seven other triples. Aside from a small turn out on a triple axel, all were done with such great speed and flow people watching at home on their couches were probably saying, That doesn't look so hard, I could do that.
Aaron is more than just a jumping bean, however. His spins were excellent, so fast and tightly centered he was practically a blur. He jazzed up his footwork with high kicks and hops, the kind of flourishes audiences — and judges — love.
But it was his perfect portrayal of the bad boy in West Side Story that was most entertaining. As he heard the first notes of his music, he fixed the audience with a smirk and began snapping his fingers. He oozed attitude throughout the entire program, so much so it's a wonder the Jets didn't storm the ice and try and wipe the smile from his face.
His big score in the free skate (175.87) was going to be tough for Abbott, Miner and the rest to top. No one came close.
Ashley Wagner became the first woman since Michelle Kwan in 2005 to win back-to-back titles in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, managing to hold off Gracie Gold despite three major mistakes Saturday night.
Wagner was subdued as she waited for her marks, surely thinking she'd blown her chance to repeat. When her score was announced and she saw she was still in first, a look of shock crossed her face.
Wagner finished with 188.84 points, about two ahead of Gold. Gold won the free skate — posting the second-highest score ever at the U.S. meet, no less. But the 17-year-old had too much ground to make up after a dismal performance Thursday night in the short program left her in ninth place, more than 13 points behind Wagner.
There is something about defending the title that brings out the worst in the American women. Six women have won the last seven crowns, and the reigning champion almost always has a meltdown.
Wagner, though, seems to be made of different stuff. She's been rock solid since moving to California to train with John Nicks in the summer of 2011. She won the U.S. title last year, had the best finish by an American at worlds since 2007 and won the silver medal last month in the Grand Prix final.