SOCHI, Russia - Cruelty can start early.
While growing up in Colorado Springs, Jeremy Abbott endured taunting about his chosen sport. His classmates played football and basketball and baseball.
He was a devoted figure skater, and his choice inspired intense ridicule. Want to meet America's most ruthless conformists? Just travel to your local high school.
Read a skating blog by Jeremy's mom, Allison: Life on the edge of skating
Abbott will compete Thursday in his second Olympics. He's a four-time U.S. National Champion. He's 28, an old man by skating standards, and he's headed into the sunset. This is his farewell. He's pushed himself to enormous success.
But Abbott is a complicated man, driven by slights, inspired by past failures. Even in his moment of triumph, he still hears those taunting voices from his past.
"Oh, figure skating," his classmates told him. "You guys are sissies."
On Tuesday, Abbott looked back on the bad old days. He grimaced as he remembered those classmates from long ago.
"I was picked on and teased a lot for doing what I do," he said.
Don't worry. Abbott is not seeking pity. He acquired a precious gift early in his life when he learned to manipulate adversity in his favor. He expertly employs the negative as fuel to carry him to lofty destinations.
This was true when he was a child in the Springs. This is true today as he seeks to employ his manipulative powers one last time. He's plotting his final magical transformation of pain to prosperity.
On February 6, Abbott skated to one of the most disastrous performances of his career while competing in the Olympic Team Skate. He botched a quad jump and tumbled to the ice on his way to a microscopic 65.95 score. He was reduced to tears.
"I think I just needed to shake the demons," Abbott said that night. "We all know I have a lot of demons."
Since his fall, Abbott has tangled daily with those demons. He's talked for hours with sports psychologists who work with the U.S. team and together they dived into all the whys for his struggles in the Team Skate.
He believes he has emerged as the victor over the demons that prevented him from flying high enough on his quad jump, the one that ended with him reclining on Russian ice. He's "extremely disappointed" for the price his fall exacted on his teammates.
He will use his recent troubles as power when he returns to the ice Thursday.
"It was exactly what I needed going forward," Abbott said of his tumble. ". I'm feeling much better. I'm excited to have another go at it. It's rare in life to have a second chance at anything."
In the Team Skate, Abbott never found his rhythm, never discovered his confidence. He was, borrowing his description, "a little scattered on the ice."
In the days since, he gathered those scattered pieces and placed them back where they belong. Or so he hopes.
"Every hair is in place and every step is in the right place," Abbott said of his routines.
Abbott crafted his skating career in Colorado Springs, where he lived for 10 years, graduated from Cheyenne Mountain High School and competed for the Broadmoor Skating Club. He departed the Springs and the BSC in 2009.
He competes in Michigan for the Detroit Skating Club, but it's clear he left part of his heart in Colorado. He misses the sunshine. He misses his parents.
But he's developed a mystical bond with coach Yuka Sato. She understands his quirky moods and his sometimes baffling personality. He's a fierce competitor. He's also a fragile competitor.
He swears he is utterly ready for the pressure awaiting him at Thursday's short program. He's prepared for any distraction. Stray dogs have been a constant subject of discussion in Sochi with one stray even sneaking into the stadium before Opening Ceremony. Abbott is ready if a stray wanders into Thursday's skating show.
"Oh, hey, look!" Abbott said, talking about the possible view on one of his Thursday jumps. "There's a dog in the audience!"
If Fido is there, Abbott is ready.
After all the taunts and all the falls and all the struggles and all the triumphs, be sure of this:
Jeremy Abbott is ready.