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Rinkside at the U.S. Championships, Part 4

Bradley says yes to quad, while Weir begs off

Junior men's skater Keegan Messing (with coach and former Austrian champ Ralph Burghart) is the lone elite skater from Alaska.
Junior men's skater Keegan Messing (with coach and former Austrian champ Ralph Burghart) is the lone elite skater from Alaska. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/23/2009) - Diehard Democrat Ryan Bradley hit the ice for his first official practice in Cleveland wearing a white T-shirt bearing the image of newly inaugurated President Barack Obama.

"My parents are pretty hardcore Republicans, but growing up, I was always a Democrat," Bradley, who lives and trains in Colorado Springs, Colo., said.

"I feel like there is so much to look forward to now. [President Obama] shows something so positive, that anything is possible. Right now I'm so proud to be an American."

Bradley, the U.S. silver medalist in 2007, had mixed results this fall. He won the silver medal at Skate Canada but a disappointing free skate dropped him to seventh place overall at Trophée Eric Bompard.

"Paris [Bompard] was interesting," he said. "I had a pretty good short, but I kind of let my mistakes snowball in the long. When I missed the quad, I was so startled, I skated into the triple Axel thinking, 'What just happened?' so of course I missed the Axel, too."

Bradley has put quadruple toe loops in his programs all season and sees no reason to change his strategy now.

"My quad has been great, the best it's ever been," he said. "I worked hard during the off-season, getting ready early. This year I've just jumped [on the quad]; it's been consistent since April and I want to keep it going."

Most count Johnny Weir, Evan Lysacek and Bradley's training mate, Jeremy Abbott, the men to beat for the top three spots, but Bradley says don't count him out.

"I feel like I'm capable of accomplishing the most I ever have," the 25 year old said. "Does that mean I will? Who knows. The way I've skated this season, I'm not past putting myself into contention."

No quads in Cleveland
Don't expect any quads this week from Weir.

"We've been working on it, but we've revised the technique of it, so for this competition it won't be there," he said.

"Hopefully, I will do it at worlds, if I make the team. [My coach] Galina [Zmievskaya] really wanted it at nationals, too, but you have to play the hand you're dealt."

The world bronze medalist is playing catch-up with his training after being sick in recent weeks, including a bout with food poisoning in South Korea over the Christmas holiday. He was there participating in friend Yu-Na Kim's "Angels on Ice" show benefiting children's charities.

"In one day, I lost eight pounds," he said. "I'm still a pound and a half lighter, which is fine. My strength is okay; before I came here, we did several run-throughs of both my short and long [programs] on the same day.

"I'm on the right track. It's not the best condition I've ever been in at nationals and it's not the worst."

On thin ice in Alaska
Despite its status as the country's iciest state, not too many elite figure skaters have come out of Alaska lately.

Sydne Vogel, who defeated Tara Lipinski at the 1995 U.S. Figure Skating Championship's junior event and went on to win the world junior title in 1997, trained in Anchorage under Traci Coleman, who now has a strong stable of students in Virginia. Other former Coleman students, including J.J. Matthews and Christina Gordon, also made their mark.

These days, representing the 49th state falls to junior man Keegan Messing, who celebrates his 17th birthday on Friday.

"As far as elite skaters go, I'm pretty much the only one here," said Messing, who trains at Anchorage's Subway Sports Center.

The teen's coach, former Austrian champion Ralph Burghart, says economic woes are partly to blame.

"Right now, it is a little dead," he admitted. "It used to be good ten years ago, but as the economy went down, less people skated and that's why we're struggling. There aren't too many young kids coming up. Keegan is on a level by himself right now."

Messing likes to think big: he's eyeing the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

"I like to have a big goal in front of me," he said. "If I have a big goal ahead of me, it helps me push harder."