BOSTON - Former Colorado Springs resident and Cheyenne Mountain High School grad 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 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, of the Broadmoor Skating Club, was third and teammate Joshua Farris was fourth. 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. The only place selections were different was with the women where Ashley Wagner was moved up over Mirai Nagasu. That also meant Broadmoor's Caydee Denney (with John Coughlin) remained an alternate in pairs after finishing third with two spots available.
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."
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.
Aaron landed one quad salchow and put his hand down on another, not enough to move into the top two after a fourth in the short program.
"I really want the best men to go, and if it's not me, it's not me," he said.