MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Well, how about a few quadruple Salchows and triple toe loops to end the hour? Ready? We're going to the Olympics in Sochi and the high-pressure sport of men's figure skating. The U.S. is defending the gold, but without the star power of previous games. Team USA is pinning hopes on two skaters: 19-year-old Jason Brown and 28-year-old Jeremy Abbott. They're not just the best hope for a medal in Sochi for the U.S. They also represent the near future of the sport here at home. NPR's Sonari Glinton is watching in Sochi.
SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: What's the hardest sport at the Winter Games? Biathlon? Aerial skiing? Snowboarding? Or high-flying slopestyle? Jeremy Abbott thought it was one of those until an Olympic official told him otherwise.
JEREMY ABBOTT: Hands down, absolutely, figure skating is the hardest.
GLINTON: See, you're on your own for three to eight minutes in front of millions. Abbott doesn't necessarily agree, but he says it's the rare affirmation he's gotten as a male figure skater.
ABBOTT: You know, growing up, people are like, oh, figure skating, like, you guys are sissies, and you're this and you're that. And, you know, I got picked on and teased a lot as a child for doing what I do. So to hear someone kind of like stand up and be like, no, figure skating is freaking tough, I was like, yeah, man.
ABBOTT: It is.
GLINTON: Figure skating is tough for Abbott. He's 28 and he's climbed the ranks for more than a decade. A disastrous performance in Vancouver put him in ninth. And he fell so hard today, a beat reporter called it one of the worst falls she'd ever seen. He laid on the ground for what seemed like an eternity, until the crowd willed him on.
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GLINTON: Abbott has spent his career in the shadow of the more controversial Johnny Weir and the more successful Evan Lysacek, who won gold in 2010, both of whom have retired. And today, four-time medallist Evgeni Plushenko stunned the skating world and Russian fans by withdrawing because of injury. With older stars gone, there are up-and-comers like Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu and Canada's Patrick Chan, who both performed almost flawlessly. The gold medallist Lysacek says the Americans should be frightened by Hanyu and Chan's consistency.
EVAN LYSACEK: Maybe their tricks aren't the most difficult and maybe they're not the flashiest, the most exciting. But overall, the most consistent are the ones that, to me, made me not sleep at night.
GLINTON: But with all of Lysacek's talk of consistency, Hanyu and Chan are technically great. They'll beat you, but they may not thrill you. That's all Jason Brown wants to do.
JASON BROWN: For me, all I want to do is be a performer. And I want to, you know, give to the crowd.
GLINTON: Jason Brown, who's 19, skated today to Prince and wore a Prince symbol. Brown is a YouTube sensation, in part because of his off-the-charts enthusiasm and his river dance foot work on the ice. But YouTube viewers are less picky than judges.
ABBOTT: I want to branch out to people who aren't skating fans. And that's really my main goal, and I want to just branch out to the public and just grow skating as a sport.
GLINTON: He has the chance to do just that tomorrow night and for a few more Olympics. Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Sochi.
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