Yesterday some of the world’s best skaters took over our local ice rink. The production company for the show Love on Ice bought time to allow their skaters to train for the show, and thrilled skating club members watched the last hour of their practice.
Ryan Bradley, current US men’s champion, stretched and warmed up in the lobby. Earbuds in, he stepped energetically through his program in black warmups and cute red-and-black sneakers. On the ice former world champion Kurt Browning worked on his double axel, while Olympic bronze medalist Joannie Rochette practiced her spins. Miki Ando, Kimmie Meissner, and other stars took turns on the ice as well.
For us mere athletic mortals it was instructive to see how hard these skaters worked, how often they fell. These skaters didn’t get this good by, pardon the expression, just skating by. These are athletes who kept pushing the boundaries of what they could do for years on end; not just polishing their strengths, but working to learn skills that required falls and bruises day after day. They’re still working awfully darned hard.
Browning, in his forties, wiped out often on his double axel attempts, including one fall spectacular enough to prompt our little crowd of watching skaters to joke about awarding extra points for it.
Ryan Bradley worked with a coach on his quadruple toe loop. I doubt that a quad toe loop will be in the show, so I can’t help but wonder if he was practicing it just to give us a chance to see it. He has said in interviews that the quadruple toe loop is his favorite jump. He’s landed two quads in a single competitive program, and says he would put in three if they’d let him.
It’s easy to be injured training a quadruple jump and some top skaters try to avoid practicing them unless it’s really necessary. Somehow I don’t think Ryan Bradley is one of them.
Bradley’s known not only as a gifted jumper, but for his fun-loving personality and for connecting strongly with the audience during his programs. Despite being an incredible jumper from a young age Bradley had a long, tough road to becoming national champion. He skated a brilliant, funny Mozart program at the 2010 national championships that brought the crowd to its feet, but his short program left him just short of an Olympic berth.
Yet because he was the Olympic alternate he couldn’t rest after the championships as skaters usually do at the end of a tiring season. He had to keep training until the Olympic Games without being able to attend. In an interview he described being in the gym doing a dead lift, looking up and seeing the Olympic men’s skating on TV, and putting the weight down with a huge pang of angst.
After the Olympics, a spot on the US team opened up for him to compete at the World Championships. He broke his foot two weeks before Worlds, but managed to tape it up and compete anyway. Still, it wasn’t the way he wanted to end his competitive career.
So when fans on Twitter begged him to keep competing, he decided halfway through the next season to try for the national championship one more time. He re-used his entertaining Mozart program, added an equally fun short program, and in his 11th trip to Nationals, won first place. He also skated well at the World Championship the next month. With those accomplishments under his belt he can move on into show skating, where he will surely shine.
Yesterday when he was done practicing his quad toe he pulled off two of his trademark backflips. And off the ice he took time to sign items and chat unhurriedly with even the smallest skaters from the club. The elite skaters are schooled by the figure skating association to be very polite and accommodating with fans. But Ryan Bradley is something special.
Which explains why I decided I’m not too old to get my picture taken with him. Thanks, Ryan, and good luck!