If there was any question about the importance of pure athleticism in men's figure skating, Max Aaron answered it Sunday afternoon with two huge quadruple jumps.
And then a triple axel. And another triple jump. And another.
For four and a half minutes, the 20-year-old skater from Scottsdale, Ariz., whizzed through music from “West Side Story,” picking up speed, applause and the possibility that he could become this national championship's biggest surprise.
In the end, Aaron's skate was enough to vault over more experienced competitors — including three-time national champion Jeremy Abbott, who stumbled on his quad — to the top of the podium. It was a major step for a skater who last year finished eighth at nationals and has never competed at the world level.
Talking to reporters after the competition, even the champ himself couldn't quite believe his name was at the top of the list.
“The goals I had coming into this event were to just complete two clean programs,” Aaron said. “I didn't ever think of medaling.”
Abbott, who was leading the men's competition after Friday evening's short program, was visibly shaken as he skated off the ice. He'd begun his program with a big mistake: a fall on the only quad jump he'd planned.
But later, he slipped up again, shortening a triple jump into a double and effectively removing any hope of earning his fourth national title.
When the announcer read his score, Abbott closed his eyes and slumped onto the shoulder of his coach, Yuka Sato.
“When I doubled that (triple salchow), I knew that was going to be the difference,” he said. “I knew that was the easiest jump in my program and I let it go.”
Abbott's final score of 249.33 was enough for bronze, behind Aaron's 255.00 points and Ross Miner's 251.29.
Joshua Farris, who had been in third after the short program, ended the event in fourth.
Miner, who won the bronze medal at U.S. nationals in 2011 and '12, skated a clean program that included one quadruple jump. He told reporters that the quad has increasingly become essential for a men's skater who wants to medal on the international stage.
“To be truly competitive, you have to have a quad in the program, both short and long,” he said. “This year is the first year where it's really been important. … It's great that we had a lot of guys trying them here.”
Aaron, who trains with two-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada, said he's had an up-close look at what it takes to stack up to the best of the best. Asked if he was prepared to jump with the rest of the world, Aaron didn't hesitate with his answer.
“Absolutely,” he said.
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