GREENSBORO, N.C. – The powerful Japanese can relax. Canada’s Patrick Chan, too.
If they were ever worried about the Americans, that is.
A meltdown the likes of which is rarely seen in figure skating – and that’s saying something – means the United States will send two rookies to the world championships along with new champion Ryan Bradley, a 27-year-old who was on his way to collecting a pension three months ago.
Bradley finished fourth in the free skate Sunday. But thanks to his lead from the short program and a collapse by two-time defending champ Jeremy Abbott, it was enough to give Bradley the title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships over up-and-comers Richard Dornbush and Ross Miner.
“Every time someone dropped below us, I’d shake Ross’ hand,” Dornbush said. “We were both pretty excited to skate great programs. That was pretty much it.”
Bradley finished with 231.90 points. Dornbush, who was so out of the mix when the day began he didn’t even skate in the last group, won the free skate and finished with 225.56 overall. Miner jumped to third after being sixth in the short program.
That U.S. Figure Skating picked Dornbush and Miner for the world team ahead of Abbott was no real surprise.
Abbott finished fifth at last year’s worlds, but the rest of his history at the world’s biggest events is less than impressive. After winning his first U.S. title in 2009, he was 11th at worlds. And that was with the home-ice advantage, with worlds in Los Angeles. He had to scramble to finish ninth at the Vancouver Olympics.
Three years might seem like a long time, but the Sochi Games will be here before you know it. With Olympic champion Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir taking it easy since Vancouver, there’s no harm in seeing what the youngsters have.
“You’ve got these kids coming out of nowhere, throwing down clean longs like it’s nothing,” Bradley marveled.
They may be young, but Dornbush and Miner are clearly skaters on the rise.
Dornbush has never competed at a senior international event. But he won the junior Grand Prix title last month, and had no trouble fitting in with the big boys Sunday. His “Sherlock Holmes” program was well-rounded with good jumps and good spins, and was almost flawless technically. He landed eight triples, two in combination.
He also displayed a nice feel for performing, and his personality can only grow the more experience he gets.
“I was talking to Ross earlier, and we were talking about how we made it through almost the entire program before it hit us that we’d done it,” Dornbush said. “That’s one of the most exciting moments you can have. … After I skated, it was such a great program and I was just happy I could skate it that way. Placing that well, it was nowhere near the top of my mind.”
This was the first senior nationals for Miner. The 2009 junior champion was supposed to move up last year, but he sprained his ankle in training about three weeks before and had to withdraw.
“Coming here, I was so excited to be out on ice and getting the chance to compete,” Miner said. “I was off the ice for four months, a long time. It was really, really awesome just to compete here.”
Miner got the maximum level fours for all of his spins, no easy task, and his opening triple axel-double toe loop was so big it almost defied gravity. The only downside to his program was its mismatched sections of music, and that’s not his fault. Nor will judges dock him for it.
But neither Miner nor Dornbush even tried a quad, the jump that is essentially a requirement to have any hope of contending with reigning world champ Daisuke Takahashi and the rest of the mighty Japanese contingent, or Chan, two-time world silver medalist and winner of the Grand Prix final last month.
The quad has been a staple of Bradley’s programs for a few years now, and he usually lands them.
Not on Sunday.
Perhaps it was skating last or being so close to the title after he was all but retired, but Bradley was uncharacteristically flat. He missed both quads, and had shaky landings on a few other jumps. But he tacked a triple toe onto his second triple axel, and then did a triple-double-double combination that helped pad his point total.
And he had the audience laughing out loud at his playful footwork, mimicking Mozart playing the piano and flirting.
“Today was a really hard program,” Bradley said. “Nothing was pretty. It was probably the ugliest national championship program (by a winner) ever, and I love it because of it. Because I had to be gritty.
“I need to go home and make sure this really happened,” he added. “We were on the podium with our flowers and I was like, ‘I don’t think you can smell in dreams.’ So I smelled the flowers to make sure I’m awake.”