Bradley gives fans a thrill, winning short program |

Bradley gives fans a thrill, winning short program

Nancy Armour, The Associated Press

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Ryan Bradley sure knows how to give fans what they want.

Three months after a fan campaign on Twitter and Facebook convinced him to put retirement on hold, Bradley stole the show from two-time national champion Jeremy Abbott on Friday night, winning the short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Bradley’s flawless and fabulously entertaining program to “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” earned him 80.39 points, putting him exactly two points ahead of Abbott. Brandon Mroz is a distant third heading into Sunday’s free skate.

“When I started training again, if I wasn’t prepared to make a push at the title, to have a chance of winning it, I didn’t want to be here,” Bradley said. “I got off the plane and I felt something in the air. I plan on staying on top.”

Earlier Friday, Olympic and world silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White took a big step toward another U.S. title with a commanding win in the short dance. They’re almost six points ahead of training mates Maia and Alex Shibutani, with the free dance Saturday.

Bradley has always been a fan favorite, with playful, theatrical programs that are Oscar worthy. But after finishing fourth at last year’s nationals and missing the Olympic team, the 27-year-old figured it was time to hang it up. He even did a backflip as he left the ice, his way of saying goodbye.

But those plans quickly went awry.

First he wound up on the world championship team after Olympic champion Evan Lysacek withdrew. As he was training for worlds, Bradley fell and broke his right foot. He kept on skating and, thinking it was healed, went in for a checkup in early May.

“(I expected) them to say, ‘You’re great, go back to training,”‘ Bradley said.

Instead, they told him he needed surgery. Immediately.

Thanks to those extra two months of training, the bone had healed but was misaligned. Surgeons had to re-break the bone and screw it back together, and Bradley was off the ice the entire summer.

“I was planning on not competing,” he said. “I didn’t want to tell anyone that. But I was planning on taking some time off and really enjoying life.”

So he taught kids and seminars and, once the foot healed, did some shows. Though he never made a formal announcement he was retiring, fans got the idea and bombarded his Facebook and Twitter pages with pleas to return.

“It meant so much to me and I was like, ‘I miss this. I miss these people,”‘ Bradley said.

So in mid-October, he resumed training.

“I was referring to myself as Brett Favre – without the success,” said Bradley, a huge Kansas City Chiefs fan.

He may not have the resume, but he sure does have the goods.

Dressed in an authentic military uniform – or as close to authentic you can get in skating spandex – Bradley opened his program with a monstrous quadruple toe loop-triple toe combination, the only quad-triple of the night. He followed with a triple axel that had so much hang time, it rivaled any pairs throw jump.

His footwork alone gave fans their money’s worth. He boogied his way across the ice, snapping his fingers, smiling and flirting with just about everyone in the arena. He had the audience clapping and cheering, and it was on its feet before he finished his final spin.

Bradley blew kisses to the crowd and pounded his chest as he left ice, then sprinted up to the “Kiss and Cry” area and jumped up onto the podium. When he saw his marks, he jumped to his feet, the smile on his face lighting up the entire arena.

“If you’re going to be sitting behind someone, at least they should do the performance of their life,” said Abbott, who used to train with Bradley and Mroz. “I’m proud of Ryan and looking forward to Sunday.”

Abbott is trying to join Johnny Weir as the only men to win three straight U.S. titles since Brian Boitano won four in a row from 1985-88. It would be an impressive feat. Olympic champion Evan Lysacek couldn’t do it. Neither could world champion Todd Eldredge. Ditto for Olympic bronze medalist Timothy Goebel.

Yet Abbott generates about as much buzz as a Zamboni driver. Part of it is his own doing, flopping at the 2009 world championships and again at the Vancouver Olympics. But he’s also had the misfortune of competing at the same time as Lysacek and Weir, the biggest personalities the U.S. men have had in decades.

“They were never really a thought for me, more just people I competed against – two people that got a ton more attention than the rest of the field,” Abbott said, breaking into a grin.

With neither Lysacek nor Weir competing since Vancouver, however, this is Abbott’s chance to shine.

He wasn’t even flustered by a five-minute delay while the previous competitor scoured the ice and his pants for a broken necklace.

“It was a little unusual, having to wait that extra time and hearing the announcements and all the noise,” Abbott said. “It kind of is distracting, and it detracts from your focus. But once I got in my starting pose, I let it go.”

Abbott is one of the most technically sound skaters, with beautiful edges that carve the ice like a master craftsman and perfect body control. He opened his program with a soaring triple flip-triple toe loop combination, and his triple axel was almost too big, forcing him to rein in the landing.

If there’s been a knock on Abbott – besides his meltdowns on the biggest stages – it’s that he doesn’t put his personality into his programs. But he sure made an effort Friday night, practically melting the ice with his fiery tango footwork. He stayed in character for several seconds after his music ended, fixing the judges with a piercing glare.

“I wanted to make a statement” with the program, Abbott said. “It shows a very strong, mature side of my skating.”

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