Interview With Richard Dornbush

Photograph of American figure skater Ricky Dornbush

After making his debut on the senior level at the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Richard Dornbush took the 2010/2011 figure skating season by storm, winning the Junior Grand Prix Final, coming out of nowhere and winning the free skate to finish 2nd at the 2011 U.S. Nationals and finishing in the top ten at the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships. After a disappointing 13th place finish at the subsequent year's U.S. Nationals, Richard rebounded strongly last season with 4 top 6 finishes at international events (including the Four Continents Championships) and a 6th place finish at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Omaha, Nebraska. A technically gifted and consistent skater and also a skater that excels in the showmanship department, Dornbush is a skater with a serious future in the sport and the drive to achieve every success he aims to. We talked about his success to date, goals for the future, backflips, balancing skating and school, Tammy Gambill and much more in this interview.

Photograph of American figure skater Ricky Dornbush

Q: You have competed at the U.S. Championships eight times (on the novice, junior and senior levels), winning the silver medal in the senior men's event in 2011 and winning the free skate that year. Of all six of your trips to Nationals, which was the most memorable and why?

A: The year I won the free skate was definitely the most memorable. I went into the rink planning on skating a program just like the one I had put down in practice the day before - clean. I was down lower than I would have liked in the short (eventually costing me the gold) and somehow I had to put that behind me and focus on the long. Well, I had done it a couple times before in junior and under more troubling circumstances if you can believe it (12th and 13th in the short) and had pulled up with clean longs both times, so I knew I could do it. I put a plan in play, trained right, and with a little luck, nailed it more than anyone else could that night taking home the silver in the process. It was pretty awesome!

Q: In 2011, you represented the United States at the World Figure Skating Championships. What was your favourite moment from your first trip to the World Championships and how determined are you to compete on that stage again?

A: Favourite moment: staying on my feet in the short program after a couple of very nervously rough practices and (the next day) settling down to almost (that salchow!) do a clean long at my first World Championships. So far as how determined I am to compete at that highest level, I would very much say that it is indeed very much. Last year I had a great run into the season but suffered a difficult injury. The rehab on my ankle took months because I first hurt my ankle one week before my first Grand Prix and did not have the time to fully recover from it until after Nationals. I dealt with it as much as I could. I took two weeks entirely off after my second Grand Prix, didn't jump for a couple more weeks, not even trying quad toes until the week before Nationals, and I eventually got a cortisone shot to get me through both Nationals and Four Continents. I think that the fact I was able to hold it together so well was a testament to the condition I was in after the pre-season and leading up to my Grand Prix assignments. Unfortunately, after several months of restricted training I was not able to compete at the level that would earn me a spot at Worlds. This year, I am feeling stronger, healthier and more cognisant of the types of issues that give me problems that could eventually lead to injury. I am extremely determined not to let the history of the past two years repeat itself. I am excited for this prospect!

Q: What can you share about your goals and programs for the upcoming season?

A: My number one goal for this season is to win the U.S. Championships and make the Olympic team. This year, I am holding nothing back. I have two great programs by Mark Pillay to “The Sons of Italy” (short) by Mancini and a Beatles Medley (long) by well, the Beatles... haha. With these programs and the work I've put into getting my quads consistent, I am hoping to accomplish my goals.

Q: You have been coached by Tammy Gambill since you started skating. What is your relationship with Tammy like and why do you feel she's the best coach for you?

A: Tammy has been my coach for the entirety of my career. I even had her in group classes. I think it's proof of her ability as a coach that she was able to take a student from swizzles to the World Championships in Moscow. It's no wonder that she has won PSA's developmental coach of the year so many times, as she has helped develop so many skaters to a high level. Tammy and I are very close (probably because of the sixteen years we've known each other), and I think I can honestly say that there isn't another coach/skater team that has a relationship quite like ours. She has had so much influence on not only the way I've developed as a skater but also the person I've become in other areas of my life as well.

Q: You have been very active in Parker Pennington's Skate Dance Dream events. What makes these events so unique and special in your opinion?

A: The great thing about Skate Dance Dream is that there are absolutely no pretenses as to what the aim of the show is – to give kids a chance to skate under a spotlight with professional skaters (or dance with pro dancers). Everything that goes into the show is for them, from rehearsals, to the seminars the performers put on, to the duets that kids can win as a prize for selling tickets. I think this ultimate goal of the company is what really makes them special and sets hem apart.

Q: What has been the best part and worst part of balancing skating and your secondary education?

A: The worst part has definitely been sleep deprivation... haha! It's definitely an added stress being in college (I was full time in the spring) while in training. I missed about three and a half weeks of lecture in the fall because of competitions and shows, which is a huge difficulty because not only do I have to focus on performing well in my shows but also on teaching myself the material I'm missing. When the material is Differential Equations, Linear Algebra and Physics, that can be an extremely daunting task all on its own! The benefit is that both skating and school are great diversions from the other. There's always something to turn to if either one seems insurmountable. Another great thing is that I can't remember the last time I was nervous for a test. I actually mentioned in my application essay to UCLA about how strange it would be to worry about an exam when just a week earlier I could literally have fallen in front of thousands of people! I also feel like skating taught me how to be an excellent student. I have a 4.0 and I can tell you without reservation that the reason for my good grades is preparation. I think about studying for a class the same way I do about training for a competition. You have to practice enough to be confident not in winning, but merely being in the top percent, which as difficult as it is isn't as bad as trying to outskate the best in the world.

Q: I read that you played the violin for six years. Do you still play and how do you feel a background in playing music helped you to relate to music on the ice as a skater?

A: I did play the violin for a long time! Eventually it was a matter of time commitment. It takes A LOT of work to be a proficient player, and with school and skating I just didn't have the time to maintain my skills at the level at which I enjoyed hearing myself play. One thing violinists are good at is differentiating pitch and we are very good at knowing when something is out of tune. Unfortunately that can be a very aggravating problem when you can hear that your off but don't give yourself the time to practice enough to make it better. So my answer, I guess, is that yes, I do still play, but rarely. If it's Fourth of July I might break out some patriotic sheet music or if it's Christmas some favorite carols, but that's about it. Also, if you don't exercise the motion often the correct holding/posture can be very painful and lead to some nasty shoulder cramps; those are no fun.

Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and who is one skater you've never met that you'd most like to meet?

A: That's a tough one. My favorite program of all time is a piece that Kurt Browning did as an exhibition called “Rag-Gidon-Time”. Just skater-wise though, that's a bit more difficult. It's really hard for me to pick just one skater because I like so many skaters for so many different reasons, some of them not even reasons related to skating. I recently did a show with Brian Boitano, and it never ceases to amaze me how focused he is for every performance even after an entire career of it. He gives his all to every show, and I think that's something to which I can aspire. I'm also a huge fan of Michael Weiss, but I might be kind of biased as he's an awesome guy and has done so much for my generation of skaters. I truly believe there's not another skater who has given back the way he has. I was very happy to hear of the recognition he received for his work by winning the PSA award for dedication to the sport.

Q: What's one thing about you most people don't know?

A: I'm not sure. I'm a pretty open book. I guess something that peple might not know is how much I love learning. I always seem to get caught up with infatuations where I learn a whole bunch about one thing for a little while and sort of spend all of my time doing that thing. This year I learned a whole bunch about the suspension on cars, mostly because I had a whole bunch of work needed done on my car and I couldn't afford it, but also because learning about my car and how to fix it myself was also pretty fun for me. I probably saved about $2,000 doing the repairs myself and had a lot of fun doing it. I also learned a bunch about remodeling as I'm in the process of redoing a room in my parents house.

Q: How do you keep skating fresh and interesting to you every time you are on the ice?

A: That's a tough thing to do for someone at my level, once you get to a point the rate of learning new tricks certainly slows down. I guess a way to keep it fresh is to reinvent your style. That is usually done each year in the competitive program but it's also fun to experiment with different styles when developing a new show program. This year I kept things fresh by learning some new show tricks - namely a backflip and a b-twist (not quite ready for the program, but definitely a fun one).

Q: What is your biggest dream in life?

A: Okay, this one is seriously an impossible question... haha. The Olympics is obviously a huge dream but I think it's part of a bigger picture. What I want is to be at the highest level of skating consistently. I want to reach the level where being at the top is almost a habit. I want the kind of domination that few skaters have achieved, something like a Meryl Davis and Charlie White status. At the same time, I want to be more than just a skater. I do consider myself as somewhat of an intellectual, as I really enjoy being at college. I am excited for the time and opportunity where I can skate and pursue my education, if only part-time, concurrently.

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