By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 29, 2011; 12:13 AM
GREENSBORO, N.C. - Ryan Bradley's engaging performance in the short program of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Friday night sparkled like the necklace Jeremy Abbott had to skate around earlier.
More on that later.
Wearing a tan Army uniform and skating to "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," Bradley used an electric, polished and powerful effort to take a surprising and narrow lead over Abbott, the two-time defending U.S. champion, entering Sunday's deciding free skate.
Bradley scored 80.39; Abbott, 78.39 - both well ahead of the third-place Brandon Mroz, who claimed 71.61, while Alexandria's Armin Mahbanoozadeh stood in eighth place with 66.77. Scott Dyer of Laurel was 18th with 55.78.
Bradley's skate, which included a quadruple-triple combination jump and salute to the crowd after he finished, came about four months after waffling about whether to retire in the wake of major surgery in May to repair a broken foot.
"I was referring to myself as Brett Favre - without the success - all offseason," Bradley said.
Now back to the necklace. In the fleeting minutes before the start of Abbott's program, as he took the ice to prepare - well, attempt to prepare - all of the following took place:
The skater who had just performed, Jonathan Cassar, weaved around the ice - and even Abbott himself - looking for the chain and pendant that had apparently fallen from his neck during his skate.
Six little girls in green dresses were summoned to help with the search by the public address announcer, who proclaimed with enthusiasm: "We need SUPER SWEEPER duty! This is a team effort, ladies and gentlemen." Abbott, confused, continued to ready himself.
And, while cameras were trained on Cassar, he determinedly stuck his hand straight down the front of his pants in the hope of locating the chain down there somewhere. His coach - wily skating veteran Frank Carroll - alertly leaped in front of him to provide cover with an outstretched Team USA jacket. The crowd, watching on the giant screen, broke up.
Abbott, whose skate was delayed about five minutes, tried to keep his cool.
Somehow he did.
Despite the disruption, five-minute delay and threat of skidding over a gold chain (the necklace wasn't found until later), Abbott laid down a heavy challenge to the men hoping to end his U.S. winning streak. He unveiled a strong and dynamic performance to a tango. He landed a clean if not wobble-free program.
He didn't attempt a quadruple jump but hit a triple flip-triple toe combination, hung on to a triple Lutz and triple Axel and brought the crowd back from the where-in-the-world-is-that-chain diversion to wild applause.
"It was a little weird having to wait that extra time," Abbott said. "When things like that happen, it is kind of distracting and it detracts from your focus."
The fact that Bradley, who is competing in his 11th U.S. senior championships with only one medal to show for it, topped Abbott's gritty effort was saying something. But despite taking months off for the surgery, when he came back in late October, he was determined to enjoy himself - and shoot for the top. He has never won a world championship medal or made an Olympic team.
"I wanted to have fun," he said. "I wanted to get back. I wanted to play, and I wanted to be successful."
Mroz, who finished second at the 2009 U.S. championships, landed a quadruple jump but mustered only a double rather than triple jump in combination.
"It's always tough in the short," Mroz said. "There's so much demanded of you. I have a great feeling of accomplishment. . . . It's really what I was trying to get back to this year."
Notably absent from the event was Olympic champion Evan Lysacek, who took the season off after his victory in Vancouver, and two-time Olympian Johnny Weir, who is on tour promoting his book "Welcome to my World." The two have been on the podium at every U.S. championships since 2003.
Abbott, who finished fifth at the 2010 Winter Games after being projected as a gold-medal favorite, said he didn't spend any time bemoaning the absence of his two American rivals.
"They were just two people I competed against, and two people who got a ton more attention than the rest of the field," he said, adding later, "I wanted to make a statement with this program."
Mahbanoozadeh, a favorite to contend for a medal here, fell attempting his final jump, a triple flip, but remains in contention entering Sunday's long program. Cassar, incidentally, got 55.98 points and stood in 17th place. His chain was eventually found by skater Parker Pennington during a warmup later in the night. "I never had that happen before," Cassar said. "I'm glad the crowd got a kick out of it, but sorry about the delay."
Notes: In the ice dance competition earlier, reigning U.S. champions and Olympic silver medal winners Meryl Davis and Charlie White took an early lead as expected, accruing 76.04 points in the short dance. They were met by a whiff of competition from training partners and newcomers to the senior scene, Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, who tallied 70.47. Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein were third with 61.74.
Gambrill's Ian Lorello and partner Isabella Cannuscio were in seventh place with 54.43; Vienna's Ginna Hoptman and partner Pavel Filchenkov sat in eighth place with 48.37; Gambrill's Alexander Lorello and partner Katherine Pilgrim scored 32.79 points; and Centreville's Kyle Herring and partner Meredith Zuber stood in ninth with 44.42.