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Aaron shakes up USA men's skating

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POSTED January 27, 2013 4:48 p.m.

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — 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 of the guys to top. No one came close.

Third the last two years at nationals, Miner had a breakthrough at NHK Trophy, where he was the bronze medalist. That gave him confidence he could be the top American man, and he's skating with more polish and assertiveness than ever before. Every element in his program, to the old "Captain Blood" movie, was finished to perfection. There was no rushing out of jumps or awkward ends to spins. It's the kind of precision a skater has to have if he's to contend with the international crowd.

He, too, did a quad — a gorgeous one, to boot — and seven other triple jumps. His only flaw was singling an axel, a silly mistake that's sure to nag at him until next year's nationals.

Abbott will have plenty of regrets after a program that was barely even adequate for a skater of his caliber. He was so slow on the approach to his quadruple toe it looked as if he was going to stop and, no surprise, he landed on his rear end. But it was his other jumps that were more disappointing. He turned several planned triples into doubles, and his landings were scratchy and awkward. That's a no-no for anyone, but it was particularly bad for a skater who prides himself on his skating skills, including edge quality so fine the carvings could be sold as artwork.

Abbott knew it, too, banging his forehead with his fist as he skated off the ice. But when he saw the marks, even he looked stunned and the audience gasped.

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