Ryan Bradley: "I get so much energy from the audience, from looking into their eyes and watching their emotions."┬á
By Nadin Vernon
Photos © Nadin Vernon, Miriam
When I saw Ryan Bradley’s new free programme at the NHT in Oberstdorf, I immediately fell in love with it and decided to catch up with him at his next competition, the Trophée Eric Bompard.
During my research for the interview, I came across a story from US Nationals, narrated by his webmaster Caroline, which I’d like to share with you:
After the short program, Ryan was in 5th place, but well within reach of a top 3, and a chance to go to Worlds. For the long program, Brandon Mroz skated just before Ryan, and Brandon had the skate of his life. When he stepped on the ice as Brandon was leaving, Ryan congratulated Brandon by giving him a hand shake. I know that they train together and they are very good friends, but still, when I saw that on TV, I was really, really impressed!! It turned out that Brandon got the spot to Worlds and Ryan finished 4th.
I was really looking forward to meeting not only Ryan the skater, but also the person. So let’s fast forward to Paris. Unfortunately his first Grand Prix of the season didn’t go as planned for Ryan. He finished in 9 th place after a free skate that was filled with untypical mistakes.
Hey Ryan. How are you doing, what happened yesterday?
I know, I know. It was kind of a rough week. I actually practiced really well. Training’s been great, I feel stronger than I’ve ever felt, more confident than ever before. I’ve done the best run-throughs of my life, so it’s kind of a shock actually. I haven’t skated that bad a free skate in a long time.
If we go back a day, how did you feel about the short?
The short was ok, not great. I was definitely unhappy to be sitting in 8th, I didn’t like my scores. I’ve gone out twice when I’ve been prepared really well and skated under my expectations. I’ve got a lot of work to do, work on my levels, work on my GOEs, so I can be in the high seventies, I don’t want to be in the sixties.
You’ve already skated both programmes at the NHT in Oberstdorf, so they weren’t the first run-throughs at international competition.
Right, that’s why I was so surprised, because I already had some wraps under my belt. After Germany I went home and did two weeks of really really good training. There wasn’t a downfall whatsoever but things here just kind of fell apart. It was a bit of a freak thing, but it was the first big competition of the year, so I just have to regroup for Skate America and be ready for our Nationals.
I really love your new LP. It’s great that you stay in character the whole time you’re on the ice, not just when the music starts. Tell me a bit about this new programme.
The judges in the States have been trying to get me to skate to classical music for a long time. I based my character on Amadeus, just from the movie and I thought that his character is brilliant. It’s very regal yet very goofy.
It’s something I can relate to, and I just really enjoyed watching the movie. I watched it 20 times and it’s a lot of fun when you’re trying to portray and understand the character. I just need to hold that character a little longer and not drop it, especially when I’m trying to do jumps.
It must be quite difficult with this particular character because it’s so light and in a way the complete opposite to what you probably feel like during competition. Were you nervous? You didn’t look it.
I was very nervous. Yes, actually it is really difficult. A lot of what I do is very based on crowd reaction and the crowd here was kind of quiet. They were more of a polite audience which is great, but it’s hard for me. I very much build on the audience getting rowdy.
It probably didn’t help that the judges’ side here was mostly designated to press while the actual audience was on the other side and couldn’t see some of the choreography and even facial expressions.
It was a little tough. I couldn’t say that that did not distract me. There are certain parts of my programme that I know should get a reaction. Even at home in training, certain parts get a reaction from my team-mates. So when I did those parts and didn’t get a reaction, I felt like my programme wasn’t coming over and then I started to panic.
What I really enjoy about your skating is that you look at single people in the audience, during both your SP and LP. You seem to be fully aware of what’s going on in the audience, and we don’t normally get to see so much of that outside exhibitions.
I get so much energy from the audience, from looking into their eyes and watching their emotions. It’s just such a cool feeling for me, I really enjoy it. I definitely like to look into the crowd and really spot people and perform to them rather than just glance over and then turn to the nine people on the panel.
I think that’s something that’s different about my skating than other people’s skating. I like to try and stay unique in my own way and to be honest it’s just what I enjoy.
How do you select your programmes. Do you come up with ideas or is it a joint effort with your coaches?
The Mozart and Bach piece was definitely my idea. My short programme was the coaches’ idea. There’s a lot of throwing ideas into the hat going on and talking about it, it’s probably a month long process. I enjoy it, it’s very fun.
Just before your short, I noticed that while Javier was skating, you still had your headphones on, almost up until it was your turn. Do you always do that?
Yes. I don’t like to listen to the crowd before me, because if I hear the crowd roar, then I’m like ‘wow, what did they just do?’ So I try to really distract myself. I’d probably listen to my headphones all the way up to my skate if I could.
What were you listening to?
I’ve actually been listening to the new Black Eyed Peas album, but it’s just random. Not the same thing each time, just something that gets my heart going.
So you don’t watch?
No, I don’t even watch afterwards.
Not even your own performances?
I’ll watch them when I’m far enough away from it. I’ll probably watch everything from here in a week and then we’ll go over what I did, what I did right, what I did wrong.
But that’s the problem. I can’t watch any skating without constantly comparing. It’s kind of difficult, it’s at that point where I’m so competitive, that I can’t even just sit back and enjoy it. So I don’t really watch very much skating, period.
It was really cool when you shook Brandon’s hand at Nationals after he skated well, great sportsmanship. Did you actually watch him skate?
I didn’t. He’s my team-mate. My coaches were with him and I could tell from their reaction that he had a great skate and to be honest I could tell that I was going to skate well right after, just because of that electricity and that environment. And you know, Brandon is a great kid, I was really happy for him.
Let’s talk a bit about your training plan. What does a normal day look like for you?
I usually get to the rink at about 10 o’ clock in the morning and then I usually don’t get home until around 8 or 9 at night depending on the day.
We do a lot of on ice, I do a dance class a few times a week, I do weights a few times a week, a lot of stretching and cooling down, a lot of sitting in ice baths and massages.
Basically we’re pushing our bodies as far as we can and then we do the massages and the ice baths to try and get that level back up and then we push and push and push. It’s very strenuous.
Do you do run-throughs every day?
Absolutely. Definitely do both run-throughs every day, if not more, and then we train in sections.
Is it always one-on-one training or do you sometimes train together with your team-mates?
Mostly one-on-one, but we’ll do little contests. Tom will be like, ‘Ryan/Brandon quad toe, triple toe’, so we have to go out and hit it on queue. It’s good, all of a sudden when you hear that your heart starts pumping and it gets you ready. So maybe I need a little bit more of that. (laughs)
You were studying business. Are you still doing that?
I’m not right now. I’m almost done with my junior year and I’ve only got a year and a half left.
It just got to the point where I’m training from 10 to 8, it’s intense. There’s really no time, no time for a social life, there’s no time for studying, there’s no time for fun. It’s all about training, but you know that’s what I signed up for this year, so it’s fine.
So you’re not really doing much else other than train and focus on your skating?
No, I don’t have time or energy. If I want to be up at 8 in the morning, I want to be in bed probably by 11. I just want to get to sleep soon, I’m so tired after all that training. I read a lot. I’ll just go to bed and read because I don’t sleep very well. I have to go through my rituals to get ready to sleep.
What do you read?
I love the Harry Potter books. I just read the last Dan Brown book which was really good and I read all his stuff. I read so many random things.
What are your goals this season?
I’d really like to prove that I can be competitive with the best skaters in the world. I kind of feel like I took a step backwards this week.
But it’s still early in the season…
It is early. I’m really disappointed because I felt like I’m really well prepared, probably better prepared than a lot of the skaters here and I didn’t produce and that’s frustrating to me. But we’re going to go back to the drawing board and I’ve got a really ambitious programme this year and I think it’s very do-able. I’m ready for it. I just want to get out there and show it.
You’ve got Skate America next in three weeks’ time, then Nationals. It’s probably more important than ever to place in the top three.
I’m definitely aiming to win Nationals. I don’t want to be in the hands of the committee. That’s part of the reason why I wanted to go out and do two quads all season and get myself ready for it, so when Nationals come round I’m ready to do that. All those boys, Goebels, Plushenko, Joubert, Verner, that have done that, that’s tops. They deserve a lot more credit than they get.
It seems that skating has taken a bit of a U-turn in that respect, we’re not seeing as many quads anymore.
Yes, it’s gone in the wrong direction I think. My quad toe double toe in the short was worth less than those triple flip triple toe combinations, which is the combination that people do when they’re fourteen and fifteen. Obviously it’s not an easy combination but we all learnt that very young and I feel like it’s taking the risk out of our sport and I think that’s what makes our sport so entertaining. I would never be happy unless I was pushing myself. I would do three quads if they’d let me.
Have you landed any quads other than the Toeloop?
I’ve landed Salchow, I’ve been very close on Loop. Flip and Lutz I fall very hard on. The toe is the one I feel very secure in.
And which one is your favourite jump?
Probably my quad toe to be honest. I really like doing the triple axel. I know it gets kind of freaky on me at competitions sometimes but those are definitely my two favourite jumps.
And you prefer jumps to anything else?
Oh yes, that’s why I skate.
Do you have a TV moment that you can remember as a child, where you thought: ‘I want to be like that when I grow up’?
The battle of the Brians was really cool to me. I was four years old. I can still remember watching it, it’s just really special. Especially, Brian Boitano is now my mentor, so I’ve gotten very close with him and getting to meet Brian Orser over the last couple of years, he’s a great guy. That was just such a special thing that they did for our sport.
And they both still continue to do great things for the sport…
Absolutely. It really is incredible.
I remember thinking it would be really cool for me to be one of those guys when I was a little boy and the name thing too, that my name was Ryan/Brian, so close.
On your website it says that you started skating with 2, is that really true?
It is. My parents learnt how to skate as adults and so they would put my sister and I on like walkers on the ice when we were both really young, and that’s how we started. It kept me out of trouble growing up, it’s been a great thing for me.
Is your family here with you?
No, but I actually just got off the phone with my mum and she’s just decided that she’s going to come with me to the rest of my competitions.
Does that add more pressure for you?
No. It’s great having that support. Knowing that no matter what you do, there’s going to be two people in the crowd that love you, no matter what. It’s kind of a good feeling. I’m really anxious. I’m glad that they’re going to come with me. I think it’s one of those things that I don’t think about until it stops to happen, and they’re not there. It’s just nice having that comfort, having someone to lean on when you need to. I’m very close to my family. I’ve been very blessed to have such great parents. They’ll support me no matter what I choose to do. They’ve always been very strict but career-wise they’ve just been so supportive and I know a lot of people that don’t have that opportunity.
Do they come along sometimes or watch you train?
They always come to Nationals, they never come watch me train. My sister’s daughter has become the priority, she’s nearly six, so she consumes most of their time.
I know that over the years my parents put a lot of money into my career. So that’s great for them to be able to do that but not put any more pressure on me because of it. I’ve never had my parents say to me ‘We’re putting this much money in, you better start skating well’. That would be awful, I don’t even know how I could handle that. They’re just two really really great people. They’ve been great role models for me.
Are they still involved in skating now?
No. My mum judges a little bit and my dad will come in and be the doctor for competitions, he’ll come and volunteer but that’s about it.
It’s a shame we’re not going to see you today. I really like your exhibition.
I know. That’s the worst part of not skating well. The exhibition is my favourite part and I won’t get to do that.
You got a great reaction in Oberstdorf, I remember Stéphane Lambiel clapping during practice.
Yeah, Lambiel is a great guy. The exhibition is the fun part. I was a bit nervous because of the whole Kanye West thing, I didn’t know if that would go down so well, but it worked out ok.
So generally, what is the atmosphere like with the other skaters at competitions? Is it very friendly?
When you are a junior, everyone’s more relaxed and so a lot of people that I grew up with in juniors still chat. A lot of the newer faces I don’t necessarily get to talk to very much. It’s probably my favourite part of travelling, meeting so many of the people. I can go anywhere in the world and be like ‘oh I have friends there’. It’s a great feeling. You feel at home and not so much like you are on your own.
It must get quite tense just before the competition though, some skaters don’t talk to anyone. Do you stick to your team?
I’ll chat with anyone as long as they’re up for it. Even when we’re getting ready in the changing room we’ll chat, but not so much on the ice (laughs).
But we all hit that moment before we go out, we just kind of put the blinds on.
Do you enjoy travelling to competitions?
Yeah, once you get there (laughs), it’s really nice, for sure.
Of course, you hate flying, don’t you?
Oh yes. Every time we hit turbulence I’m like (holds on really tight to his seat and looks scared). It’s something I didn’t develop until I was a little bit older which is really bizarre. I think it’s just the idea of being out of control of the situation. I know you have a higher percentage of risk dying just driving, but then I’m driving and I can control. On an airplane you’re just sitting there. It’s silly, I probably spend a third of my life on an airplane, I’m always flying somewhere, almost every weekend.
Thanks so much for this interview Ryan and best of luck for the season.
After the interview we went outside to take some photographs and I asked Ryan the question I’ve been asking everyone over the weekend: “Any idea how they mow this lawn?” Check out the pictures in the general TEB report on AS and you’ll know what I mean. Turns out Ryan was one of the few people up early enough to witness how it was done. Thanks Ryan, for clearing that up! :)