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Bradley drinks it all in

It must be something in the water.

The water that’s used to make the ice inside the Arena, that is.

Because whenever Ryan Bradley sets blade on that cold, unforgiving surface, he morphs into the most entertaining figure skater on the planet – which he did once again during Sunday’s Senior Men’s free skate competition at the 2010 United States Figure Skating Championships.

Not that the 26-year-old resident of Colorado Springs, Colo., isn’t always a hoot to watch. But Spokane and the appreciative Arena crowd that is such a big part of its skating scene seem to motivate him to a different level.

“They’re everything to me,” Bradley said in reference to the fans on hand to witness another brilliant free-skate performance that surpassed the one he put on in the same building during the 2007 national championships to vault past Johnny Weir and earn the silver medal. “I know this is a solo sport, but everyone out there has something to say, I just wanted them to be there with me. They were awesome.

“They did everything I needed, and then some.”

Bradley did his part, as well, opening his long program with a quadruple toe loop, followed by a quad-double combination that pumped up the crowd and helped earn the first standing ovation of the competition.

Bradley, who came into Sunday’s finals in sixth place following a dismal short-program performance Friday, posted a personal-best free-skate score of 155.34, good for second place in the free skate, and a personal-best combined score of 225.97. But it still left him in fourth place and one spot short of claiming one of the three coveted berths on the men’s team that will represent the United States in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games that begin next month in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“The short program I was freaking out,” Bradley said in explaining the fearless manner in which he approached his high-risk free-skate program. “So today, I had nothing to lose. I had put myself in a position where I was outside looking in, and there’s no looking back from there.

“You know, what am I going to do? Fall further off the Olympic team?”

Bradley warmed the crowd up with a quirky series of tiny dance-like steps he used to center himself on the ice, and then proceeded to dazzle those in attendance with a high-energy skate that came off with no deductions and only one minor hiccup – a small misstep leading into a triple axel midway through his program.

He called the misstep “a little bit funky, but not funky enough to miss (the jump).” And he later said he got the most satisfaction out of landing the triple salchow he had missed at each of the last two national championships.

“It’s a jump I’ve been doing since I was 9 years old, and it’s haunted me,” Bradley admitted. “So that might have been the highlight of my skate, for me.”

After Sunday’s performance, Bradley was asked if he planned to continue skating.

“I’m really not sure,” he said. “I said four years ago I was going to do it four more years and that would be it. We’ll see. But it was really emotional out there today, because this might be my last time.

“It was like saying goodbye to a family member.”