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Bradley 'soldiers' on to grab lead after short

Abbott two points off lead; Mroz sits third

Always a crowd favorite, Ryan Bradley was also the judges' favorite on Friday night.
Always a crowd favorite, Ryan Bradley was also the judges' favorite on Friday night. (Paul Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/29/2011) - A few months ago, Ryan Bradley was traveling around the country, performing in club shows and teaching skating seminars, contemplating retirement from the competitive ranks.

Now, the Colorado Springs-based skater is in a position to win his first U.S. title at age 27.

"Everything went okay today, nothing to get excited about," he said, humorously deadpanning.

"No, seriously, I was really happy to get the monkey off my back and do a great short. There is still got a lot of work to do, a few days more before this is done."

The popular skater roared to a two-point lead with a rousing short program to "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" that brought the crowd to its feet.

Costumed as a staff sergeant major, the consummate entertainer reeled off the only quadruple toe, triple toe of the night, banking 14.40 points. He followed up with a solid triple Axel and triple flip, then let loose during the step sequence, doing what he does best: playing to the crowd.

His jumping prowess added up to 80.39 points and the lead going in to Sunday's free skate. An unlikely result, to say the least.

"Last year was a whirlwind," Bradley said. "There was the Olympics and not making the team. Getting the call for worlds, which was an awesome consolation. Then I broke my foot and couldn't train the way I wanted."

After placing 18th at worlds and performing in shows, Bradley returned to his doctor, who told him he needed immediate surgery to re-break a metatarsal bone in his right foot and repair a non-union heal.

Off the ice all summer, Bradley did not begin serious training until the fall. For that, skating fans have Twitter to thank.

"My plan was not to compete," he said. "I planned on taking time off and enjoying life. Then with the digital generation -- Facebook, Twitter -- so many people said they wanted to see me at nationals."

Bradley, with help from his older sister Becky and longtime coach Tom Zakrajsek, kicked into high gear in November, still booked all over the country. Clubs gave him ice time to train, and he did his competitive programs in their shows.

A young skater he met during his travels inspired his music choice.

"With all that's happening in the country, I wanted to do a military program; obviously I could have chosen any military piece," he said. "I watched an intermediate lady do ["Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy"], and she was so cute. I thought, it would be hilarious if I did this. Then I thought, 'Why not? Who's going to stop me?"

As someone who has long competed against Johnny Weir, Evan Lysacek and Jeremy Abbott -- winners of the last seven U.S. titles -- it's been a long time since Bradley has actually contemplated winning a competition.

"I always thought, 'I want to be in the top three' or 'I want to make the world team,'" he said. "It's not like I didn't want to win, I just maybe didn't feel legitimately that I could."

Not this time.

"I felt if I couldn't make a run at the title I didn't want to be here," he said. "I plan on staying on top."

Two-time defending champion Abbott lies second after a refined and dynamic Tango short that tallied 80.39 points.

"I felt I had to fight for the performance, it was not easy for me," Abbott, 25, said. "I felt my way through it, and I'm happy to be standing here."

Although Abbott landed all of his planned jumps -- including a triple flip, triple toe combination; triple Axel; and triple Lutz -- two of his spins gained just Level 2 from the technical panel.

"I'm actually really surprised, to be honest," he said. "I thought I held my spins really well. I was counting the rotations, and I was into it."

Abbott was not helped by minor commotion caused when the skater preceding him, Jonathan Cassar, lost a chain and cross pendant during his free skate, resulting in a several-minute delay while flower sweepers were called to the ice.

"It was a little weird having to wait that extra time and have all of those announcements going on," Abbott said. "It distracted from my focus."

Brandon Mroz, who also trains under Zakrajsek in Colorado Springs, had a solid if unspectacular short featuring a quad toe-double toe combination; triple Axel; and triple Lutz. He sits third with 71.61 points.

"I think today went well for the most part," the 20-year-old said. "It was a bit of a fight. I stayed vertical; staying on my feet is always a plus. It wasn't as easy as I wanted it to be."

"I was encouraged by Brandon's [33.65] components' score; they are his highest of the season," Zakrajsek said. "I think he can still express the program more, in his face and his body. Of course, a triple toe [after the quad] would have helped. We shooting for a score in the high 70s, but this is fine. He's in the mix."

Alaska's Keegan Messing led off the event with a career-best short including a solid triple Lutz, triple toe combination; triple Axel; and two fast, Level 4 spins. He is fourth with 69.79 points.

Douglas Razzano hit a quad toe and triple Axel in his short, although his combination was a relatively conservative triple toe-triple toe. His 69.61 points put him fifth. Boston's Ross Miner had a solid short to place sixth.

One of the pre-event favorites, Adam Rippon, sixth at the 2010 worlds, will have to mount a strong challenge in the free skate to qualify for his second U.S. world team.

The two-time world junior champion, who trains in Toronto under Brian Orser, dug a hole for himself by turning out of his triple Axel and falling on his "Rippon" Lutz (two hands over the head). Heading into the free, he is ninth with 66.26 points.