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Bradley fights through free skate to claim gold

Crowdpleaser takes title; Dornbush a surprise silver

Ryan Bradley overcame a flawed free skate to take his first U.S. title.
Ryan Bradley overcame a flawed free skate to take his first U.S. title. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/30/2011) - It wasn't the performance of his dreams, but Ryan Bradley isn't complaining.

"It was probably the ugliest U.S. champion's program ever, but I love it," he said.

The 27-year-old, who nearly retired from competition after breaking a bone in his right foot and undergoing surgery last May, won his first national title after 11 trips.

The unlikely podium continued with two 19-year-olds -- Richard Dornbush, the Junior Grand Prix champion, and 2009 U.S. junior titlest Ross Miner -- winning silver and bronze. The top three will compete at the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships in Tokyo in March.

In a shock, two-time defending champion Jeremy Abbott fell on a downgraded triple Lutz and struggled with a triple loop combination to finish fourth, and was left off of the world team.

The likeable Bradley -- who took the ice last, joking with the crowd and warming up to the strains of "Whatta Man" -- turned out of the first two jumps, a quad toe and a quad toe combination, in his comical program to a Mozart medley.

He recovered with a triple Axel and triple Lutz, but his defining moment came in the second half of the program when he gutted out a triple Axel-triple toe combination that earned 14.15 points. Although just fourth in the long, his combined score of 231.90 beat Dornbush by 6.34 points.

"I missed my first two jumps, and usually that's when you go to the music box and hit stop and rewind, and I couldn't do that," Bradley, who trains in Colorado Springs under longtime coach Tom Zakrajsek, said.

"I never thought 'oh wow, I blew it,' I thought, 'do something funny so they'll laugh and not see you missed.' I had a second triple Axel in my long and this year I've been hitting it...The one thing I changed is adding a triple toe."

The experienced Bradley then had the presence of mind to change his next combination, a planned triple Salchow- triple toe, to a triple-double-double, so he would not repeat the triple toe three times and lose points.

With Dornbush and Miner, the U.S. youth movement may have started, but Bradley isn't ruling out competing at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

"A lot of it has to do with how I am feeling on a day to day basis," he said. "If I feel healthy, if I feel relevant, I don't see why I wouldn't compete."

Dornbush reeled off eight triples including two fine triple Axels to win the free skate with an inspired performance to Hans Zimmer's Sherlock Holmes soundtrack.

"Everything went so well; I've been training for this all season," Dornbush, who trains in Riverside, Calif., under longtime coach Tammy Gambill, said.

"I had a great program in China [at the Junior Grand Prix Final] and that really set me up with confidence. I was talking to Ross [Miner] earlier about how we both made it through our entire programs before it hit us how well we did."

Miner, who missed the 2010 U.S. Championships with a foot injury, also hit eight triples in his clean performance to music from Casablanca.

"This is my first year [competing] senior, and it was pretty tense going out there," he said. "I remembered I had done hundreds of run-throughs...it took me until the last spin to realize that was the best program I've ever done."

Dornbush and Miner, who trains at the Skating Club of Boston under Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson, sat in the skater's lounge and watched the final skaters, expecting to be overtaken for the top three. It didn't happen.

"We were both pretty vocal, pretty excited," Dornbush said. "Every time somebody dropped below us, I would shake Ross' hand. We were both excited to skate such great programs."

Abbott went down on a triple Lutz and struggled with a triple loop-double toe-double toe combination. He also lost points on a spin that rated just Level 1 from the technical panel. While he gained high program component scores (79.86), he placed sixth in the free and fourth overall, .19 points behind Miner.

"I was feeling good through the first half of my program," Abbot said. "Then I had a weird pick on my Lutz and a bad landing, and I guess that was enough to put me in fourth."

Abbott has struggled with boot problems all season, sticking with last season's pair throughout the Grand Prix season. He has been in his current boots for about a month.

"I haven't felt comfortable with my skates, but I really felt I could be solid today," he said. "I came to do two solid performances and I did one and a half, and that was not enough."

Adam Rippon climbed from ninth after the short to fifth overall after a third-place free skate. Armin Mahbanoozadeh also improved his standing, finishing sixth after placing eighth in the short. They, along with Abbott, have been assigned to the ISU 2011 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships.

Keegan Messing, who placed eighth; Jason Brown, ninth; and U.S. junior champion Max Aaron will compete at the ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships.