Skater makes a leap
Upstart Miner bound for Worlds
Three days after he won his bronze medal at the US Figure Skating Championships, Ross Miner was back on the ice at the Skating Club of Boston, knocking out triple axels and lutz-toe combinations. Had he not had the day of his life in Greensboro, N.C., his season likely would have been over before Groundhog Day. But the Green Mountain emigre happily saw his shadow, so his winter will continue for another two months.
“This year was always about getting exposure for me, about putting my name in the hat,’’ said the 20-year-old Watertown resident, who made his senior debut this season. Instead, he earned a trip to next month’s World Championships in Tokyo along with fellow rookie Ricky Dornbush and new domestic titlist Ryan Bradley.
That’s the payoff for a commitment that Miner made when he was 12, when he and his parents moved here from Williston, Vt., so that he could begin his skating apprenticeship in earnest. He’d been a hockey player until then, but after seeing the figure skaters go through their daily session, he was drawn to the sequined side of the ice.
After four years at the juvenile level, Miner relocated to Soldiers Field Road to work with coaches Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson, essentially starting from scratch.
“If you saw how I skated when I came here, I do not know why Mark and Peter took me,’’ he said. “I cheated every jump. Even my single axel was cheated.’’
By 2006, Miner was national intermediate champion. In 2009, he won the junior crown, setting up his planned entry into the senior ranks last year. Then, a week before he was to leave for the championships in Spokane, Miner trashed an ankle while landing a triple axel in practice and was finished for the season.
“You have those slow-motion thoughts when something bad is happening,’’ he said. “I just remember thinking, my body should not be going this way. As soon as I fell, it was, ‘OK, I’m not going to Nationals.’
“Peter thought I broke my foot. My ankle was, like, backwards. I tried to skate two days later to see what was going on and I couldn’t even do a one-foot backwards glide, it hurt so badly.’’
The high sprain cost Miner not only senior Nationals but also junior Worlds, where he likely would have made the podium.
“After a while, I realized there was really nothing I could have done,’’ he said. “It happens to everyone. It’s nothing I can do anything about, so I’m not going to lose a lot of sleep over it. With that said, I lost a lot of sleep over it.’’
Miner still drew two Grand Prix assignments for the season that began last autumn, competing in the NHK Trophy in Nagoya, Japan, and the Cup of China in Beijing. But after finishing ninth and seventh against top international competitors such as world medalists Daisuke Takahashi and Brian Joubert, he understood that he had to elevate his game significantly.
“I was at a crossroads,’’ he said. “I can be OK and mess around in the middle or I can take it seriously. Unfortunately, sometimes I need to get kicked in the ass before I realize that a change is necessary.
“When I sat down with Mark and Peter after the Grand Prixes, it was a pretty rough conversation. It was hard to say I wasn’t happy with myself and with how I used my opportunities. It was hard to say, ‘Hey, I’ve got to change.’ ’’
Change in attitude Skating, after all, is why Miner left Vermont and why he’s taking college courses on-line from the University of Missouri. The anatomy and physiology classes are a challenge, he conceded, “because it’s difficult to replicate a cadaver lab in your kitchen unless you are into true crime.’’
“I’ve seen a lot of people try to go to college full-time and skate, and that’s not for me,’’ Miner said. “I get one chance to do this and I don’t want to throw it out the window because I want to live in a dorm. My parents have made big sacrifices so I can do this, and I should make some, too.’’
The biggest change has been his attitude toward training, which he’d always viewed dutifully.
“It was, I’ll do it because I’m told to do it,’’ Miner said. “Now I go through every single thing I’m doing and ask, why am I doing it? Why am I doing three lutz-toes in a row? So that I can be confident in it when I get to competition. Why am I doing triple axels right after each other? Because if I can do it there, I can do it in my program. Why am I doing a long program if I feel sick? So that if I feel sick when I compete I know I can still do it.
“I train so that I get results, not because I’m told to.’’
So what results seemed reasonable for these Nationals? Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek wasn’t competing, nor was three-time titlist Johnny Weir. Bradley was coming off surgery and hadn’t competed all season. Adam Rippon, one of last year’s world teamers, had a so-so autumn.
“We thought Ross had enough of an opening to make a mark, a statement: Here I am for the next four years,’’ said Mitchell.
To achieve that, Miner and his coaches felt, he’d need to finish in the top six and pile up 200 points, which is what that placement required in 2010. After the short program, Miner was sixth, but well within reach of the podium. He needed a clean free skate, and several mishaps by those above him.
Miner did his part, nailing his three combinations plus a second triple axel and ended up second in the free skate behind Dornbush, who’d been skating juniors all season.
“The second I got off the ice, I told my coaches I didn’t care about placements,’’ Miner said. Until he realized he might place.
One after another, the contenders dropped off. Douglas Razzano botched two jumps. So did Keegan Messing. Brandon Mroz under-rotated his quadruple toe and had a couple of blah spins. Then Jeremy Abbott, the two-time champion, fell on his triple lutz and messed up his triple loop combination. Dornbush and Miner were in the money.
“As soon as I saw Jeremy’s scores come up, I knew that obviously we were getting medals of some color,’’ said Miner. “It was crazy. I don’t think either of us would have thought that was going to happen.’’
Nor did Bradley, who planned on retiring last year after missing the Olympic team and breaking his foot.
“He was so cool on the podium to Ricky and me,’’ said Miner. “He said, ‘It’s so awesome that you guys are up here.’ ’’
More work to do The question was, would all three be named to the world team? The rules allow the international committee to consider previous results, and Abbott’s résumé clearly was more impressive than Miner’s.
“I knew it was something that I had no direct control over,’’ Miner said. “If it happened, great. I would understand if they had sent Jeremy.’’
But Miner had outskated him on the biggest day of the season, so the committee went with the top three. Mitchell scrapped his planned trip to Hawaii and Miner got back on the ice as soon as he could.
There were chatroom comments about sending a newbie to Worlds instead of an Olympian.
“To me that’s great,’’ said Miner. “It’s motivation. I want to prove people wrong.’’
Nobody is expecting the Americans to win a medal in Tokyo. Their primary task is to maintain three entries for next year’s event in Nice, which the men can do by finishing no worse than sixth and seventh.
“You have these Olympic and world medalists and here you are,’’ observed Mitchell. “It isn’t easy.’’
If Miner performs well, he could pile up enough ranking points to be guaranteed a couple of Grand Prix appearances next season and take another step on the road to the 2014 Winter Games in Russia.
“That’s a long way away, and anything can happen,’’ he said. “If I’m not focusing on right now, I’m going to be lost.’’
This is a sport in which one busted axel can wreck your season or a great one can help it continue. That was the real payoff for making the podium last month. Ross Miner gets to keep skating until spring.
John Powers can be reached at email@example.com.