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Rink Notes: Road warrior Bradley happy to watch

Wagner, Nicks use comedy to help maximize performance

2011 U.S. champion Ryan Bradley is content in his retirement from competitive skating.
2011 U.S. champion Ryan Bradley is content in his retirement from competitive skating. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/29/2012) - For a decade, Ryan Bradley reigned as the crowd favorite at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, earning countless standing ovations and gathering so many stuffed animals he could have started his own Toys "R" Us.

So it's a bit surprising that the 2011 U.S. men's champion is content in his role as a spectator in San Jose.

"It feels pretty nice to be able to be here, see all the familiar faces, feel the excitement, and not be so stressed out that I feel nauseous," a grinning Bradley said.

Obviously, there were always nerves lurking below the personable Bradley's happy-go-lucky demeanor, but he never showed them while lighting up arenas with programs like "William Tell Overture," Saturday Night Fever and last season's "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy."

"It's fun seeing all this, instead of just wanting to shrivel up and sleep until it's my time on the ice," the 28-year-old Bradley said. "It's nice and peaceful, and I can be supportive, without having to worry so much." As he watched the men's short Friday night at the U.S. Championships, Bradley marveled about Jeremy Abbott, a former Colorado Springs training partner and longtime rival.

"He's an obvious favorite," Bradley said. "Every year when Jeremy steps on the ice, I think it's his to win. We'll see. There are so many young kids who can do amazing things. That's the thing about the U.S. men's field: It's so deep. You never know who's going to win."

Bradley also had admiration for 2011 U.S. junior champion Max Aaron, the only man to land a quadruple jump (Salchow) in his short. Aaron and Bradley shared the same coach in Colorado Springs, Tom Zakrajsek. Perhaps Bradley feels a kinship, since a quad toe-triple toe in his short to "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" played such a large role in his own win.

"The quad in the short is very high risk, not-so-high reward," he said. "If you feel confident in it, it's absolutely something you should do. If there's not a lot of confidence, there is no point in trying it.

"It's a hard choice. That was something Tom and I had to decide for me every year: Is it worth me putting the quad in the short? It's always worth putting it in the long, because it's not so, be perfect or go home."

These few days in San Jose are a brief respite from Bradley's busy pro career. A Disson Skating appearance in "Pandora Unforgettable Moments of Love on Ice" airs on NBC on Feb. 4, 4-6 p.m. EST. He's also done many club shows, seminars and personal appearances. On Feb. 18, he embarks on a 10-city tour with Stars on Ice, kicking off in Salt Lake City.

"People want to watch me skate, and I want to skate for them, and I love performing so much, it's kind of hard to stay no," said Bradley, who has homes in Colorado Springs and Canton, Mich. "I think I've been at my house maybe three-and-a-half weeks since [2011] worlds ended. It's just ridiculous. At one point I was sitting at O'Hare [Chicago airport] adding up all the layovers -- I can find them all on my United itinerary -- and I'd spent seven or eight hours more at O'Hare than I had at my own house.

"But I love it. [Show skating] is one of those things I've wanted to do since I was a little kid and saw my first Stars show. When I'm training it's the same pattern, all hard work every single day. Now it's still hard work every day, but you're always someplace different, a different hotel every night. It's stressful but it's always amazing to be able to come out in front of a crowd."

Not that it's easy. While his two individual Stars numbers, created by Sun Valley-based choreographers Joel Dear and Ashley Clark to Footloose and "Best is Yet to Come," respectively, are within his comfort zone, the group numbers are a different issue.

"Stars is the most complete ice show I've ever seen, let alone been a part of," Bradley said. "Everything comes together, and we all feed off each other. There is one part where we all glide on the ice on an edge and it's like a school of fish. The details are so fine, it was so hard for me, especially as a singles skater, just wanting to do my own thing."

In a few months, Bradley will add another line to his resume: cruise ship performer.

"I'll be on Liberty of the Seas, Royal Caribbean," Bradley said. "My girlfriend [also a skater] is working on the ship; that's what got me interested. You basically get a new crowd every few hours, which is unbelievable.

"The rinks are so small and the crowds are just on you, and I love that. It makes it very real, very stage-oriented. It's a different avenue of skating. Plus, a lot of the people on the cruise ship won't know me, and it's cool to have that anonymity and start from scratch performing."

Bradley said he won't let the smaller rink dimensions limit his performances, especially in one regard.

"I don't think I could ever be on the ice without trying a backflip. I usually do a few extras."

Nicks and Wagner work out kinks in comedy act

John Nicks, Great Britain's 1953 world pairs champion with his late sister Jennifer, moved to America in the wake of the 1961 plane crash that killed the U.S. world team. Since then, he's best known for training 42 U.S. champions in the different skill ranks.

Besides coaching skill, his most prominent attribute is a dry, British wit. His press conferences and mixed zone appearances with 2006 Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen are near-legendary in reporting circles, and it looks as if he and new U.S. champion Ashley Wagner are picking up where Nicks and Cohen left off.

"Ashley and I have had a very good on-ice relationship for six months," he said after his pupil's win last night. "Off ice, it's not so good. She says my clothes are too old-fashioned."

"I never said that!" Wagner said.

"You did," Nicks said. "I went to Neimann Marcus and got the stupidest, most expensive thing I ever bought."