A Conversation with Richard Dornbush:  Part 1, Ricky on Skating

Before Nationals, we sat down with Ricky Dornbush, the 2011 Senior Men's Silver Medallist who, with the retirement of Ryan Bradley, is the highest medallist returning to the Championships from last season.  Ricky spoke to us about his season, skating and his personal interests.

[Though he's all grown up now and goes by Richard in competition, to all of us back home who have known him since he started skating, he's still Ricky!]

ISIO Ė After placing seventh in the short at 2011 U.S. Nationals, did you think your first place in the Free Skate would hold after you finished your long?

RD Ė You know, I was in a sense, but as I was watching the other skaters, some people skated well and some people didnít. And you know, moving up was great for me and I was very happy, happy that I was able to move up, but I didnít necessarily.  I wasnít too surprised.  I mean I was a little bit surprised, but I know the sport pretty well and I could sort of see the range of scores that the people ahead of me were going to get. I mean, I was definitely surprised for a few of them. There were a few people after they skated, I wasnít sure whether Iíd end up ahead of them or not. One was Ross. He was behind me by about a point, I think, after everything was said and done. So I was a little bit surprised there.

ISIO Ė What was your experience like since Nationals on your first senior Grand Prix?

RD Ė Itís been a great season. It was great to start my Grand Prix career so close to home in Ontario [California]. I didnít have to fly or deal with a lot of the problems that come with competing on another continent. It was nice not to have to deal with those. And then my second one in China, overall I was very happy with it, and I think itís a good start to what I hope will be a long career on the Grand Prix Series.

ISIO Ė What did you learn in the Grand Prix this year from your experiences and your performances that has helped you going forwards to Nationals?

RD Ė Itís the same general sort of recipe for success. I take all of my experiences with me when I go to competition and when Iím training. But, you know, there is always something to improve on. Iím really working on getting clean performances out. I want to get a good strong short out at Nationals Ė at the National Championships. I was happy with my short in Skate America, but I definitely think I can improve on that, and I can definitely improve on my short at Cup of China.

ISIO Ė Have you made any major changes since the Grand Prix or has it been more a matter of polishing your programs?

RD Ė There were some specific area in my long program. We changed a section of the music where my footwork and first triple Axel had been. The music just wasnít strong enough for my skating to really show off itís best qualities, so we made a change in the music there, and weíre constantly fiddling around with the programs tweaking things here and there to try and keep them fresh and put [things} in the right place.

ISIO Ė A lot of your programs seem to be character based. You seem to like to play characters during your programs. Is that true and where does that come from?

RD Ė Yeah, I think to some extent thatís definitely true. I definitely had character driven programs recently. It hasnít always been the case, but Iíd say I do character driven programs more than most people do. I donít know. Itís sort of Ė if the music suites it. I have a great choreographer, Cindy Stuart, that I work with creating these programs and the character. The character really sets the program apart and makes it easier to get a feel for the music.

ISIO Ė What are your goals for Nationals this season? Where would you like to end up?

RD Ė They are mostly personal performance based. But, you know, after coming in second last year, after two relatively new guys on the block, me and Ross coming up and medalling, it made it clear that at a National Championship anything can happen. So what I am looking forward to is really putting two solid skates out there and ending up close to the top.

ISIO Ė If you should make the World Team, what do you think of the prospect of going up against Evgeni Plushenko, who is coming back this season?

RD Ė You know Iím pretty excited about it. A lot of the people I grew up watching seem to be coming back. A recent press release showed that Johnnyís going to try and come back next year and that Evan was talking about coming back also. Iím excited about being able to compete against those [skaters] that Iíve looked up to, and seeing where the cards lie. I think itís sort of a challenge to the younger generation to sort of step up and show them what we can do.

ISIO Ė This season a lot of the skaters have been pushing the envelope on the quads going after quad flip and quad Lutz. Do you feel like they are moving the finish line on you for the technical content you have to master?

RD Ė You know people have tried the Lutz before. So itís not so much the push of the envelope in that theyíre trying the harder quads, because itís not that theyíre doing harder quads Ė itís not that theyíre doing quad toe and the quad Salchow and now theyíre [also] going to try the quad Lutz too. Theyíre still only trying one quad in their program. Ö Patrick really showed what you need to be at the top, and I think he just inspired a lot of people to try the quad and to also try and get the new system elements in the program as well.

ISIO - Do you do anything specifically to work the components and what are your goals in terms of that part of skating?

RD Ė There are several areas where I definitely work on my components. I try to work with my choreographer year round to change sections of the program that arenít living up to the standard that we want. I also work with a stroking coach and work on footwork and the elements in between, and weíre constantly tweaking trying to make it the best we can. But you know, at the end of the day itís a fine balance between putting energy into different parts of the program, and itís really difficult to find the perfect balance between being able to do all the difficult jumps and the difficult spins and step sequences and also performing those elements to their max as well as the component side of the program Ė your transitions and your performance and execution. So itís sort of a delicate balance between the two and you really have to toe the line closely to get that perfect program.

ISIO Ė Is it also difficult in terms of how much time you have available to devote to any one thing. Do you feel if you concentrate on the elements then the components necessarily suffer or if you concentrate on the components the elements suffer?

RD Ė Iíd say itís probably a little bit of a double edge sword. I mean working on the components Ė you can work on the components enough so that it becomes second nature. But to do them spot on and to be able to get the nines and possibly up to the tens Ė to get those high components really takes a lot of conscious effort as well. I mean it certainly takes away from your focus, but I think if you train the program right and youíre confident enough in your jumps you can manage it.

ISIO - Some prominent skaters from years past have said that the new system, the way they describe it, has taken the heart out of skating. That itís all elements and the same old thing now. You mostly came up in the new system so maybe you canít relate to as much to the 6.0 system, but do you feel cramped by the rules in term of what you can put out on the ice in a performance, or do you feel you still have enough flexibility both show your athleticism and also put on a good show.

RD Ė I think that one of the things people see when they say that the heat has come out of skating Ė the biggest change Iíve seen between the old system and the new is how much more difficult it is to hold a title, or hold prominence under the new system. Itís constantly changing, and some people could argue that itís for the better, that itís more fair. Itís not for me to say, and I think it would be extremely difficult to say whether one way or the other.

A lot of people grew up and they knew the top names. The had Plushenkos and Yagudins who dominated the scene for years on end. Itís hard to want to cheer somebody on, somebody like a Michelle Kwan whoís skating her tenth skate of a lifetime. Itís hard to get that heart out of it when you're not seeing just Michelle Kwan but you're seeing Christina Gao and you're seeing Rachael Flatt and you're seeing Mirai Nagasu, and every year you're seeing Alissa Czizny, every year itís changing, and every year somebody slips up and another person takes their spot Ė and I think thatís something you see a lot more in the new system than you did with the old.

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Copyright 2012 by George S. Rossano