BOSTON - Every night for the last three weeks, Jeremy Abbott had the same nightmare. He'd implode in the short program of the U.S. Championships, buried in seventh place with an Olympic berth out of reach.
"I would wake up crying, and it was just horrifying," he said.
The reality Friday was nothing like that.
A spotless performance set a U.S. record with 99.86 points in his final nationals before retiring.
"I wouldn't say it was a dream, because I was very in it," Abbott said. "I was very focused and very aware of what I was doing the entire program. I think that's why it was as good as it was."
The three-time U.S. champ leads Richard Dornbush by 7.82 points heading into Sunday's free skate.
"Honestly, I have much more confidence in the long program than I do in the short program," Abbott said.
The only time he came close to falling was when he nearly tumbled during his celebration afterward. The three jumps were perfect, his footwork exuberant.
He's dazzled like this before at U.S. Championships, but there have been few of these moments since his last title two years ago. Abbott often struggled as he overhauled his training program.
"When things didn't work at competition, I believed in what we've done," he said. "And I just kept plugging at it, and it paid off tonight."
Usually he bubbles with energy in the lead-up to nationals, his favourite event. The 28-year-old Abbott felt strangely nonchalant this year until the day before he headed to Boston.
"I just realized that I was leaving and this was the last one," Abbott said. "I had this flood of emotion and excitement and fear and dread and passion and everything. Since I've been here, it's been really joyous."
World champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White felt the same way earlier Friday in their short dance. The 2010 Olympic silver medallists are well on their way to a sixth straight U.S. title.
Skating to selections from "My Fair Lady," Davis and White broke their own record with 80.69 points to build more than a seven-point lead on Madison Chock and Evan Bates. Siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani were third; three teams will go to Sochi.
The free dance is Saturday.
"This is the first time we felt comfortable enough to let things happen naturally," Davis said. "This is the fifth time we're competing the program. With this program, it's all about being comfortable enough to let things happen naturally, and when you reach a point where it can be just fun, that's what we really enjoy about skating."
Abbott has enjoyed U.S. Championships far more than major international competitions in his career. He beat Evan Lysacek at the 2010 nationals before the last Olympics, only to finish ninth when his countryman captured gold in Vancouver.
Abbott held the previous U.S. mark for a short program, 90.23 at the 2012 nationals.
Dornbush, 22, has struggled since coming in second in 2011 and didn't even compete in the Grand Prix series this season. Only the second skater of the night, he was spectacular from the get-go Friday, landing a perfect quad and triple axel that had the fans entranced.
By the time his 2 1/2-minute program was done, the crowd was on its feet, Dornbush was on his knees throwing an imaginary punch through the air and celebrating a career best.
"I'm not sure any thoughts went through my head," he said. "I was pretty excited, pretty pumped."
Jason Brown was in third after a smokin' skate to Prince's "The Question of U." He even wore a black and purple costume embellished with rhinestones around his neck and down his back and side, plus Prince's "love symbol" on the back.
He nailed a triple axel and a triple flip-triple toe loop with gorgeous flow to open the program. Brown, who just turned 19, added a lutz with both hands above his head, footwork that meshed with every element and with every nuance of the music, and speedy spins that had the crowd roaring.
"I think the whole season has pushed every guy to just really push themselves to their limits because anything is possible at this event," he said.
Defending champion Max Aaron was fourth, one of five skaters to land a clean quad. The U.S. will send two men to Sochi.
Abbott knows exactly what stands between him and a shot at Olympic redemption: eight jumping passes, 13 jumps, three spins and two series of footwork.
"That was just fun," he said. "I love to figure skate. When you hit all the technical stuff and you do all the athletic part, that's when you can really enjoy the performance."
AP Sports Writers Barry Wilner and Jimmy Golen contributed to this report.