Ryan Bradley: "I have found inner peace with my skating"Â
The last week of January gave us two skating stories that seemed almost unreal, more like fairy tales coming to life in front of my eyes. The first one happened in Bern when Sarah Meier finished her competitive career by winning her first European title; the second one occurred a day after that on the other side of the world in the US.
Ryan Bradley, who considered retirement after not making it into the Olympic team a year ago and who similarly to Sarah missed the beginning of the season, won his first national title in Greensboro, North Carolina. He performed an exceptional short program, probably the best in his skating career, nailing all the jumps, including a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination, a triple Axel and a triple flip, far exceeded his personal best and was in the lead before the free program. His free was less successful and he made mistakes on his quads, but he fought through this program with the audience on his side and won the competition by more than 5 points.
In this interview we talked with Ryan about new and old programs, coaching changes, chances of the US team at Worlds and new rules.
So, first of all - congratulations!
You wrote in your Twitter some time ago: "Is it possible to make a comeback if you don't take a season off?" What would you answer now?
Now I think that it is certainly possible. It is very difficult to miss the entire season and then just come back for Nationals. But it obviously worked out for me and I am really grateful that I chose to come back.
Let's go back: for those who last saw you in Turin - what has happened during this period? In a few sentences.
Well last year in Turin I had a broken foot and was struggling to walk to the ice. I've since had surgery to fix that and I am feeling better than ever. I will be going into Worlds healthy and full of confidence. I also did a great number of shows this year and used that as a catalyst to help my skating and performance at Nationals. I was very busy, but gained a surplus of experience performing in all sorts of situations.
Can you tell me more about your sister? Is she still your main coach?
Yeah. My sister was the reason I started skating in the first place. She was really talented and I looked up to her very much. She had to quit early due to an injury and I felt the need to step up my skating for our family. She has remained in the sport as a coach and she is such a positive person. This year in particular she has been very helpful in keeping me positive and confident for the competitive season. She is taking me through Worlds and I am really looking forward to it. My long time coach Tom Zakrajsek has taught me everything I know about technique and I will always consider him my main coach. He has had a more supportive role this season, but I am still very thankful for his time and input.
Tom Zakrajsek was sitting next to you in the K&C and I wanted to ask about this, but I guess you already answered, right?
Right. Tom started with me when I was only 5 years old and will always be a part of my career. He was very busy at Nationals and I didn't feel it would fair to intrude on the other kids' time when I made such a late decision to compete at Nationals. He agreed to be there when he could.
So nice of him.
You also had someone else sitting next to you in the K&C, the doll... Who is that?
(laughs) That was an inside joke from some kids that I have taught out in North Carolina. I teach a seminar out there every summer and the kids are always playing practical jokes on me and trying to scare me. But they never succeed at that. So that was the explanation behind the doll. It's a doll from an American movie called "Child's Play".
It brought you luck, maybe you should always take it to the competitions?
(laughs) I think that might scare my roommate. And it's also rather large. I will keep it propped up in my room for now.
You skated in the same group with your team-mates and rivals, Brandon Mroz and Jeremy Abbott. I guess it pushed you forward. And now you train alone. But it seems that this approach works better for you. Is it so?
I loved skating with those guys. They pushed me so much on days when I didn't have it in me to do it on my own. This season, though, I have found a bit more inner peace with my skating. I feel like I am doing it for all the right reasons now and enjoying the process a lot more.
It's very important to enjoy what you're doing. Especially with skating, which is so difficult...
Absolutely. We have such long hours that it becomes very difficult if you are unhappy.
Let's talk about your programs. You have an exhibition program, "Willy Wonka", which was rumored to become your free. Or was it just a rumor?
(laughs) I do believe I started that rumor. I intended to make that into my free program, but I fell into some trouble when I tried to find music without words. It took a long time trying to track down the music that I wanted and it pushed me too late into the season, so I decided to stick to my old free program from last season.
Your old free is just great, I love it! And I was glad to see it again.
Actually, both of your competitive programs are good for shows as well: they have some kind of a story, a character. Isn't it harder to skate such programs at the competitions though?
I found that I compete best when I am performing a program that I really believe in and I can really enjoy the process. I jump much more consistently when I am enjoying myself on the ice.
But when something goes wrong, isn't it harder to stay into the story? How was it at Nationals when the first jumps of the free didn't go so well?
Absolutely. It was one of the hardest programs of my life. Making mistakes on my favorite jump at the beginning of the free is heartbreaking. I just blocked it out and tried my hardest to make the crowd enjoy my program, so that they would forgive the mistakes. In doing that, I also got myself back into my rhythm and was able to save the free and hit everything else.
And you succeeded! Congratulations once again. How was it to skate your free last by the way?
Skating last is really stressful for me. I don't like being off the ice so long before I perform. I was having some problems backstage with my foot between the warm up and the free. That made it really difficult for me to stay warm during that period and it got into my head a bit. I would much rather warm up quickly and skate first out of the warm up.
Also, how was it to be first after the short? This can be stressful as well.
That was actually really exciting. I can't remember the last time that I won the short program and entered the long as the man to beat. That gave me a lot of confidence. I also had a really aggressive mindset when going into the free. I didn't want to try and protect my lead, I wanted to go out and build on it.
Do you feel that we can call your comeback already fulfilled or maybe we should wait till Worlds?
I feel that it was definitely fulfilled as far as Nationals are concerned. I certainly have a lot of unfinished business on the world stage and I intend to take that next step in Moscow.
Talking about Worlds, what do you think about the US team that will go there?
I think it's really exciting to have so many new faces, lots of talented kids that are getting their chance to prove that they belong.
Yes, this is great. On the other hand, are you optimistic about the results? How many spots will you be able to get for the next year?
If we deliver like we did at Nationals, I don't think we have anything to worry about. There were some solid skates put down and I have full confidence that we can build on those. [Other two boys] may be young, but they have a lot of experience in the Junior circuit (Richard Dornbush is the 2010Â–11 Junior Grand Prix Final Champion and Ross Miner is the 2009 Junior Grand Prix Final bronze medalist and 2009 U.S. Junior National Champion - ed.). If they focus on their own skates and don't get caught up in the hype of everyone else, it will be most productive.
So, what do you think, what's next? Will you continue as long as you enjoy skating?
I will sit down with my coaches and family and have a nice long talk about my future when we get home. Nothing is certain as of right now.
About the next season, will your fans have a say in it? I know they influenced your decision to come back this year.
I feel like they always have a say to some degree, but the ultimate decision point is whether I feel like I have anything left in me or not.
They would love to see you more. If not in competitions, maybe in shows?
Well, I sure hope so. If I don't compete, then I will certainly be doing shows for as long as I can.
Maybe sometime we will see you in Europe? Ari Zakaryan mentioned that he wanted to invite you to his tour in Russia last fall...
I would love to perform more out there. Wherever there is an opportunity, I will try to find it. Yes, I was very hopeful to work with Ari last year, but then it would have been difficult to be able to compete this season.
Ari's tour was cancelled in the end, but he really praised you when we spoke. He was impressed by your two quads at Nationals last year.
That's great. I really hope to work with him at some point in the future.
And if I mentioned quads already, then as a "quad lover", what do you think about the recent changes in the rules?
The rule changes certainly made me more willing to come back and compete. I enjoy watching skaters who really put everything out there and add that high risk factor.
Are those changes good enough or should the quad be worth even more points?
In my opinion, it should be worth a lot more. I think that it's such a difficult trick and so few are capable of executing it in competitions. If you want the sport to progress even more, you add value to the hardest tricks.
Maybe they should also give additional points for the back flip then? Just kidding.
(laughs) Then I would certainly compete next season.
Then you will certainly win everything!
Well, I hope you'll win even without it. It was really nice to talk to you, good luck in Moscow
Thank you very much. It was a pleasure.