Ryan Bradley wins in surprise-filled men’s final at U.S. Figure Skating Championships
Reporting from Greensboro, N.C.
With Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir not competing, it figured to be a wide-open men’s title fight at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
After all, either Lysacek or Weir or both — five times — had been on the podium every year one of the seven previous seasons.
But no one could have predicted Sunday’s results, among the unlikeliest in U.S. skating history.
“Very, very surprising,” reigning Olympic champion Lysacek said after presenting the gold, silver, and bronze medals to Ryan Bradley, Richard Dornbush and Ross Miner — and the pewter medal, for fourth, to Jeremy Abbott.
Bradley has retired and unretired twice since the 2010 Olympics and began training seriously again only in October.
Dornbush was 11th at last year’s nationals and seventh in Friday’s short program.
Miner missed last year’s nationals with a sprained ankle and had made his senior debut here with a sixth in the short program.
Abbott had been national champion the last two years.
No wonder the 27-year-old Bradley said he was flabbergasted by not only making the top three for just the second time in his 11 tries at senior nationals but also becoming the most unexpected U.S. men’s champion since Rudy Galindo in 1996 and the oldest since 30-year-old Todd Eldredge in 2002.
Especially after beginning the free skate, in which he finished fourth, by botching consecutive attempts at quadruple jumps. When Bradley managed to land a second triple axel jump in combination late in the four-minute 30-second program, he hoped only that would be good enough to stay on the podium.
“Nothing was pretty,” Bradley said. “It was probably the ugliest national championship program ever, and I love it for that because I had to be gritty.”
Grinding as much as skating Sunday, Bradley did enough to hold onto a lead of about 12 points over both Miner and Dornbush after his brilliant skating in the program.
He won with 231.90 points. Dornbush, 19, of Corona, won the free skate nd finished at 225.56. Miner, 20, of Watertown, Mass., had 224.35.
“It is a little bit surreal,” Dornbush said.
Abbott’s abysmal free skate — one fall, three messy jumps, no triple-triple combinations — cost him the last of three places on the U.S. team for the March World Championships by .19 points.
When they finished the free skate, with the presumed top skaters yet to come, Dornbush and Miner figured the standing ovations and the satisfaction of having hit every element in personal best performances would be their reward.
Then Abbott and 2009 U.S. runner-up Brandon Mroz bombed.
“Every time someone dropped below, I’d shake Ross’ hand and smile at him,” Dornbush said. “You don’t say anything, knock on wood, right then. After we skated, we were going to be happy, no matter what happened.”
Bradley, ever the showman, did a backflip after ending his program, just as he had done a year ago.
Last season, it was a farewell gesture made when Bradley knew he had missed the Olympic team by six points. This time, uncertain of the result, he wanted to make sure he showed off before leaving the ice.
“I’m back at that crossroads again. What do I do? Do I go on?” Bradley said.
When the encouragement of fans on social networks convinced Bradley to take another shot at nationals, he could barely do the easiest triple jump. But he had a bye to nationals and figured he would come as a lark and do crazy things to make the audience laugh.
He eventually realized that was a lie.
“All of a sudden about a month ago, things really clicked, and I started thinking, ‘I don’t just want to have fun. I want to win,’ ” he said. “I don’t think I have even won a local competition in four years. I always do something stupid in my long or short program.”
Dornbush began skating only a couple years before Bradley made his senior debut. He has been with the same coach, Tammy Gambill, at the same rink in Riverside, for his entire career.
“When your three older sisters decide they want to skate, you are kind of outvoted,” Dornbush said.
Dornbush skated on the Junior Grand Prix circuit this season and won the Grand Prix Final last month. He had finished just fourth in one of the Grand Prix meets.
“I had a great program at the Grand Prix final, and that really set me up with confidence to be able to do it here again,” Dornbush said.
Still more athlete than artist, reminiscent of Olympic bronze medalist and “Quad King” Timothy Goebel, Dornbush tossed off eight triple jumps, including a triple axel in combination, and earned the highest technical scores in the free skate.
“Ross and I were talking about how we made it through almost the entire program before it hit us we had done everything,” Dornbush said. “That’s one of the most exciting moments you can have.”
Especially when it is so unexpected.
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