If ever there were a case study in the power of positive thinking, twenty-seven-year-old Ryan Bradley might be the poster child.
The two-time World Team member has been surrounding himself with positive thoughts, often posting them on social network sites, and reaching out to his family, friends, and fans to support him in his quest for a first senior national title. The result was the best performance of Bradley’s long career, and the showman sits in first place after the short program ahead of two-time and defending champion Jeremy Abbott.
“I was really happy with the way things went, especially after the last few years,” Bradley said with a smile. “To do a clean short program is a great feeling, but I have a lot of work to do. There are still a couple of days before this is all said and done.”
Skating a crowd-pleasing routine to the jump blues World War II tune Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, Bradley styled himself as a high-ranking soldier out for a night on the town. From the first note of his music, it was easy to see that this was Bradley’s night, capturing the attention of the audience with his trademark flirtatious style.
“There’s a lot of things that inspired this program,” Bradley explained. “Our time and our country’s history, the past and where we are now. That repetition is obviously a big source of inspiration, and obviously I could have chosen any military piece and I chose this one. When I was injured, I watched an intermediate lady do it, and she was so cute, and I thought that it would be hilarious if I did this. It was just kind of fluttering in my brain, and when I decided to come back, I thought, Why not? Who’s going to stop me?”
But it wasn’t just the presentation of the program – Bradley brought the technical content as well, nailing a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination to earn 14.97 points to open the program. The 1999 US Junior Champion also hit his nemesis triple Axel, and rounded out the jumping passes with a fine triple flip. His score of 80.39 points far exceeds his previous personal best, and it was well deserved.
Bradley wasn’t even sure that he would compete in the US Championships, confessing to saying goodbye to the competition during the bows of his freeskate last season. However, with encouragement from his support team and with an outpouring of fan requests to come back one more time, Bradley decided to give it a go in mid-October.
“I was planning on not competing, but I didn’t want to tell anybody that,” Bradley confessed. “I was really planning on taking some time off and just enjoying life for a bit. Then with the digital generation, I had so many great, great people who reached out to me and said ‘You know, Ryan, we respect what you want to do, but we miss you’ and so many other wonderful things. It meant so much to me. I thought to myself that I miss this. I miss these people. I miss the faces that I see at Nationals every year, so I decided to lace them back up and compete again.”
When the leader finally decided to lace his competitive skates back up, his long-time coach Tom Zakracjek was on a six-week business trip taking his multiple students to Grand Prix events. In order to get to work right away, Bradley asked his older sister Becky to put him on the ice.
“It’s the way I have approached this entire year,” Bradley shared. “It all started with teaching kids all over this year, and I wanted to have fun. I wanted to get back, I wanted to play, and I wanted to be successful. My sister is the reason I started skating. She was a skater when I was younger, and my parents dragged me to the rink. I would be in the rink breaking everything, so my mom made me skate because of my sister. She’s someone I look up to. I love her so much, and our family is so tight. I wanted to have fun, and I wanted to smile when I looked back at the boards and not be scared. She’s just a very positive person in my skating and in my life.”
Bradley, confident with the responsibility of being the leader after the short program, understands the importance of the freeskate, and has one goal in mind as it approaches- to win.
“I was telling everyone earlier that when I have come here in the past I would say that I really wanted a medal, to be in the top three, and to make the world team,” Bradley admitted. “I never thought about winning. I haven’t thought about winning a competition that I was in since I was fifteen-years-old as a junior. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to win, but it was that I didn’t feel that I could legitimately win. When I started training again, I decided that if I wasn’t prepared to make a push at the title and to have a chance of winning, that I didn’t want to be here. So, obviously when I got here, I stepped off the plane, and just felt something in the air. I plan on staying on top, and there is no other reason for me to be here.”
After a delay caused by previous competitor Jonathan Cassar’s necklace breaking and being lost on the ice, Abbott took to the ice for his short program. The Detroit-trained former training mate of Bradley’s skated a strong performance, finishing in a strong second place.
“It was a little weird having to wait all of that extra time,” Abbott admitted, “but I really did my best to block that all out and stay focused on the job at hand. When things like that happen, it’s kind of distracting and it detracts from your focus, but once I got in that starting position, I wasn’t letting a single thing go.”
Abbott took a more conservative approach to his Viejos Aires program, opting for a triple flip-triple toe loop combination to open. The 2008-09 Grand Prix Final Champion also hit his triple Axel, and rounded out the program with a triple Lutz.
Though the jump elements were scored well for Abbott, his spins and step sequence were not. For his flying upright spin, the twenty-five year-old received a level three, but each of his other elements earned a disappointing level two.
“I’m really surprised to be honest,” Abbott said of his levels in the program. “I thought that I held my spins really well, and I was counting and into it. I guess I didn’t do what I thought I did.”
Abbott’s final score of 78.39 points keeps him in the hunt for a third consecutive title, and he seems eager to step up to the challenge.
“Winning three in a row would be great,” he said eagerly. “For me it would be better to carry it on into the season past nationals for the first time. But to be a United States champion three times in a row would be incredible and an honor, and it’s something that I would be quite proud of.”
Finishing in third place was former World Team member Brandon Mroz. Like Bradley, Mroz opened with an intended quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop, but unlike Bradley, popped the triple into a double.
“There’s a lot of expectations with it being nationals, and you want so much,” Mroz shared. “There’s a lot of pressure, and my short program is very demanding. With the quad and triple Axel, it’s tough. Being silly, I was trying to have fun in my short, and I was trying to weave in those elements. I think that some stuff was a little rough and I had to fight for it, but that’s what it is all about.”
The twenty-year-old skated to music from The Barber of Seville, choosing to interpret the music with whimsical choreography. His score of 71.61 points was disappointing for the 2009 US silver medalist, but he vowed to fight back in the freeskate.
“I’m happy with what I did. I didn’t have any major mistakes to sort of save,” Mroz said. “I really wanted that quad-triple, and not doing it tonight really was kind of a bummer. I’m always wanting more, and I’ve got a well trained long which is probably my strong point.”
The first skater of the competition, 2009 junior silver medalist Keegan Messing got the ball rolling right away and in a big way. The product of Alaska, the newly-turned nineteen-year-old attacked his Robin Hood program like with his usual reckless abandon.
“Everything went really well, and I was really stoked that I drew that number one out of the basket,” said the unflappable Messing. “Number one has always been good for me. First is a difficult spot to be in, and I went out and all I wanted to do was to have some fun and be able to walk out of this rink with a smile on my face.”
Always a crowd pleaser, Messing’s score of 69.71 points held up throughout the entire competition, and the Junior Grand Prix Finalist finds himself in fourth place heading in to the freeskate.
“There’s no pressure,” Messing said of performing in the final group of the competition on Sunday. “I’m stoked that I get to be on the same ice as the top contenders, and that’s just going to drive me to do better, and hopefully I can compete against these guys.”
Messing opened with a huge triple Axel, and also completed a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination as well as a solo triple flip. The highlight of the program, however, is his well-centered, speedy, and dynamic spins. In just his second season as a senior competitor, Messing has proven that he is a force to be reckoned with.
“It is kind of empowering,” Messing admitted about his position heading into the freeskate. “Just keeping your calm and taking one element at a time in the free program. I have seven triples and one quad, and it’s a lot to handle, but if I take things one at a time, it usually just works out.”
In the performance of his career, twenty-two-year-old Douglas Razzano stands in fifth place. Before this competition, the Arizona native’s best short program finish at the US Championships was 11th place.
“I was so, so ready today,” Razzano admitted. “Of course I was nervous and I had to stay with what I was doing. It’s almost like a culmination of all of the mediocrity (of his previous competitions), and I’ve been rising slowly this year. I’m at a peak.”
Skating to Peter Gabriel’s The Feeling Begins, Razzano opened with a triple Axel and immediately tackled a quadruple toe loop as the next element. The 2007 Junior Grand Prix Finalist skated clean, and earned a total of 69.61 points.
“It’s not so much the marks, but it’s more about how I skated,” confessed Razzano. “To do it when it counts the most is the best part of it. That’s what gives me the big boost.”
In his senior national debut, twenty-year-old Ross Miner finished in sixth place with a strong performance to his Partkiki program. Miner completed all of his triple jumps with ease including a gorgeous Axel, and earned 67.99 points in total.
Richard Dornbush, the nineteen-year-old newly crowned Junior Grand Prix Final Champion, finished in seventh place after making small errors on each of his jumping passes. His total of 67.71 sets him up for a strong charge in the freeskate.
2010 Skate America bronze medalist Armin Mahbanoozadeh fell on his solo triple Lutz, and had to settle for eighth place. The nineteen year-old scored 66.77 points.
After finishing in sixth place at the 2010 World Championships, twenty-one-year-old Adam Rippon seemed poised to make a run at the title this season. However, the two-time Junior World Champion had a disastrous performance that skaters hope never happens.
“I’m very disappointed in my performance. It’s not what I’ve been doing at home in practice,” Rippon said disappointedly. “Coming here, I felt really good and really prepared. It’s just a total fluke to skate so badly today.”
Rippon stepped out of his triple Axel attempt and fell on his signature triple Lutz, earning just 66.26 points for his efforts. His score was far below his personal best from last season, and the 2008 US Junior Champion will have to skate perfectly on Sunday to have a chance to move up into medal contention.
“I am just going to try to put this behind me and evaluate it later,” declared Rippon. “So, going into the free skate on Sunday I’m just going to be aiming to do the very best I can do.”
Grant Hochstein, a 2010 Junior Worlds team member finished in tenth place.