Miner takes major step with bronze medal

Unlikely medalist comes up huge on big stage

Ross Miner put all his training to good use by nailing his free skate in Greensboro.
Ross Miner put all his training to good use by nailing his free skate in Greensboro. (Getty Images)


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By Sarah S. Brannen, special to
(02/03/2011) - Ross Miner stepped onto the senior men's podium and looked up at Ryan Bradley.

"Is this happening?" he said.

Yes, Miner had just won the bronze medal at the 2011 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and in a few minutes, he would also be named to the world team.

Before the event, Miner, wasn't even considered a dark horse. He had missed the 2010 U.S. Championships with a high ankle sprain after winning the junior title in 2009.

"Last year I had had a great season, and I'd been training very well. My goal was to be top six at nationals, and I think I could have done that with how I had been skating," he said by telephone on Tuesday.

"January 5, 2010, at 10 a.m., I was doing my short program. I fell on a triple Axel, and I had a high ankle sprain, at the junction of the tibia and the fibula. It didn't swell up a lot, so it didn't look like I had done anything that serious. The day after that I tried to skate, and I couldn't even skate backward it hurt so much."

Miner reluctantly decided to withdraw from the 2010 U.S. Championships and, eventually, the 2010 World Junior Championships. It ultimately took him four months to get back to full-time training. Last fall he made his debut on the Grand Prix Series at the NHK Trophy, where he placed 9th, and Samsung Cup of China, at which he finished 7th.

"I came back from the Grand Prix pretty disappointed in myself," he said. "I felt like I hadn't taken advantage of the opportunity that was given to me. You skate with [Daisuke] Takahashi, on the same session, and you see how hard he works. It kind of struck me that what I was doing wasn't going to work."

On the flight home from Asia, Miner wrote down a list of things he wanted to change about himself and his skating. Back in Boston, he sat down with coaches Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson and had a serious talk about his skating.

"Everyone has their flaws, and talking about them isn't that fun!" Miner says. "I had a tendency, and I probably still do, to avoid my problems and overlook them, and then have them come back and bite me."

From that day on, Miner started getting up at 6:30 a.m. every morning and going to the gym.

"I realized that if I ride the bike and stretch before I skate I feel better on the ice," he said.

Once on the ice, he worked harder than ever before.

"I don't think I've ever trained in a way that was so focused before," he said. "If you do something and it's not the way you want it, don't say, 'Oh it's ok.' Do it again. If you're not happy with something, do it again. Doing three triple Lutz-triple toes in a row, you say to yourself that you're doing it to be able to do it in a competition."

"I think he's grown up a lot since Cup of China," says Miner's mother Gloria. "He's worked really hard -- when he came home I think Ross really made the decision to focus and apply himself. He's very self-motivated right now. I was really happy to see him rewarded and learn that if you apply yourself it will pay off."

Once in Greensboro, Miner had mostly good practices that got better as the week went on. (He also celebrated his 20th birthday on Jan. 24 and followed the tennis results from the Australian Open; tennis is his second passion after skating).

When the competition began, Miner skated a clean short program to a salsa medley, including a triple Axel that he says was the best one he has ever done in competition, but he did a triple Lutz-double toe, instead of a triple-triple.

"That was annoying. I was kicking myself afterward," he said.

In his free skate, to "Casablanca," Miner was nervous, but he told himself it was an opportunity to show off what he had been working on.

"This is the first time that I've tried two triple Axels in a program in competition," he said. "Going into the second I was trying to remind myself to breathe. After I did that I was screaming at myself to focus. I did the last double Axel, and I realized I did everything in the program. So I was really, really happy. That was my first standing ovation at any big competition, so I'm going to remember that moment for a long time."

Miner said he was so happy with how he skated that he didn't care what placement he got. He sat in the skaters' lounge with Richard Dornbush to watch the rest of the event, and after Brandon Mroz's scores they realized they were at least ensured the silver and bronze medals, respectively.

"We knew Ryan had such a big lead in the short that it was going to be hard for him to fall behind us," Miner said. "If anyone deserved that gold medal it's Ryan Bradley. It was crushing for me to watch him last year, and it was really cool."

Miner is aware that some thought it might have been better to name fourth-place finisher Jeremy Abbott to the world team in his place, and that some question whether the team will be able to secure three spots for the U.S. next year.

"I think Jeremy's a great skater, and I would have understood," he said. "I don't know if I would have been happy about it. Jeremy's one of the great American figure skaters, but I'm happy to be able to represent the U.S. at worlds. I think the way they did it [assigning Abbott, Adam Rippon and Armin Mahbanoozadeh to the Four Continents Championships] is really fair to everyone, it gives everyone a chance to get ISU points.

"I'm definitely planning on using these negative comments about Ricky [Dornbush] and me not being able to secure three spots at worlds as motivation to work really hard."

Miner, who grew up playing hockey in Vermont, has trained with Mitchell and Johansson in Boston since the age of 12.

"I think he's always had all the ingredients to skate like he did [in Greensboro]," said Mitchell, "But he wasn't able to put it out there. After the Grand Prix, he got the jumps together, and once he had the elements he was able to work more on the performance side."

Mitchell and Johansson are in the process of planning the next six weeks of work with Miner.

"If he can continue on the same path and keep working on the performance level, I think that will take him to the next level," said Mitchell.

Miner had not brought a costume for the champions' exhibition, having no thought of placing high enough to be invited to skate in it. So he bought a North Carolina Tar Heels t-shirt and donned a pair of blue jeans for his Bruce Springsteen program and brought the house down for a second time.