Aspiring Olympians abound at Weiss' annual showRippon, Dornbush, Davis and Brubaker entertain audience
Much of Michael Weiss' annual benefit show, Ice Champions Live!, is dedicated to entertainment. Weiss, the two-time Olympian and headliner of the event, always delights his hometown fans in the Washington, D.C., area with backflips, trademark spread eagles on the heels of his blades and a cast of elite skaters.
This year -- Weiss' ninth to raise scholarship money for up-and-coming skaters -- was no exception. Dan Hollander, dressed in a woman's cheerleading outfit and blond wig, had the crowd at The Gardens Ice House howling. Olympic champion Brian Boitano captivated the fans with an elegant skate to "Bring Him Home" from Les Misérables, and Katia Gordeeva displayed the impeccable technique that helped her win two Olympic gold medals.
Entertainment, along with raising funds for skaters (entering this year, the Weiss Foundation has raised more than $530,000 in scholarship money), are the top priorities of the show. This year, the event raised approximately $60,000 after initial accounting.
But there is another key element to the show that is worth noting: Weiss does his best to support the skaters who are still trying to achieve their Olympic goals. Among those showcased Sunday were four competitors who hope to make the U.S. Olympic Team that will compete in Sochi, Russia, in February: Adam Rippon, Ricky Dornbush and pairs skaters Lindsay Davis and Rockne Brubaker.
Rippon, the 2012 U.S. silver medalist, just moved from Lake Arrowhead, Calif., to Los Angeles a week and a half ago but flew to the East Coast to perform his short program. Dornbush, the 2011 U.S. silver medalist, performed an exhibition number, which included a quad Salchow. And Davis and Brubaker, who formed their partnership in late February, came to show they are ready to compete with the best in the world.
With intensity and drama, Rippon skated his Carmen short program featuring his trademark arms-up triple Lutz. His goal, he said, is to change that triple Lutz to a quad come Skate America, Oct. 18-20 in Detroit.
"I want to have the quad Lutz in both programs," Rippon said. "Of all the quads, that's the one I have had the most success with. I think it will set me apart."
Would he ever do a quad Lutz with his arms up in the air?
"No," he said with a laugh. "Unfortunately, I need to keep my arms close to my chest for that jump."
Rippon said the move from Lake Arrowhead to Los Angeles, necessitated by Ice Castle International recently closing its doors, has been pretty smooth. He didn't own any furniture while in Lake Arrowhead, so moving was relatively easy. He continues to work with Rafael Arutunian, only now he skates at the East West Ice Palace operated by Michelle Kwan's family. And even though Rippon does not have any family in California, he trains alongside one of his close friends, two-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner.
"Ashley and I train together and work out together," Rippon said. "We have been best friends for a while. We have what I'd call a very 'family-like' relationship. We are each other's family out here."
Dornbush, who also is based in California, training with Tammy Gambill in Riverside, has his sights set on Sochi as well. He will compete at the Finlandia Trophy, Oct. 4-6, and then will kick off his Grand Prix season at the Cup of China. He is also set to travel to Russia for the Rostelecom Cup.
At Weiss' show, Dornbush performed an exhibition number to "Lover of the Light" by Mumford and Sons and included a quad Salchow (he held onto the landing), a triple Lutz with his arms in the air and a backflip. His plan is to have a quad toe and two quad Salchows in his free skate.
This was the first time Dornbush did a quad in an exhibition program.
"Competition season is coming up, and I thought this would be good practice for me," Dornbush said.
Dornbush also performed a second quad of sorts in the show as he, Weiss, Ryan Bradley and Hollander all did backflips simultaneously in the finale. Weiss said that was a first for the show.
Dornbush is well aware that there are just two spots for the U.S. men in Sochi.
"Yes, but my plan is to be on the top spot," Dornbush said.
Two other skaters in Weiss' show who have Olympic aspirations are Davis and Brubaker. The team has been training alongside top ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, in Canton, Mich. Davis and Brubaker, who are coached by Marina Zoueva and Johnny Johns, will make their season debut at the Nebelhorn Trophy, Sept. 25-28.
"We've been doing double run-throughs to prepare for that, so we're pretty tired, but we're really happy with where we are at right now," Brubaker said.
The couple is trying to squeeze in as much skating as possible. In addition to Nebelhorn, they have been assigned to Skate Canada and plan on performing in "An Evening with Scott Hamilton and Friends" cancer benefit show in Cleveland on Nov. 2. They are keeping their fingers crossed for another senior-level competition as well.
Many in the sport thought Brubaker had a pretty clear path to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, after he and then partner Keauna McLaughlin won the U.S. pairs titles in 2008 and 2009. But they placed fifth at the 2010 U.S. Championships and did not make the U.S. team in Vancouver.
Brubaker knows circumstances are quite different now -- he and Davis are underdogs -- but that hasn't dampened his competitive spirit. In fact, he said he thinks he and Davis will be right in the thick of things in Boston in January.
"The pairs competition in the United States is strong, but I think we're very capable of making the Olympic team," Brubaker said.
Ice chips: One surprise guest at the show was none other than Olympic silver medalist Paul Wylie, who happened to be at the rink in Laurel, Md., for a seminar on the same weekend. He was working on the second sheet of ice and popped over during the finale. He was such a late addition to the cast that he wore Hollander's Michael Weiss show jacket. … When Boitano was introduced at the show, he was identified as "Olympic champion, world champion and national champion." The fact that he is a Food Network (and Cooking Channel) star wasn't mentioned. But Boitano will return to the area Sept. 28 for the Baltimore Book Festival, where he will promote his cookbook, What Would Brian Boitano Make?, and participate in a cooking demonstration. … Weiss' show truly is a family affair for the Weiss family. Weiss is the star performer; his wife, Lisa, handles much of the show operations and preparations; his mom, Margie, is involved in pretty much everything; and his sister, Genna, a former diver, was at the show helping with the silent auction. Weiss' daughter, Annie-Mae, performed in the show, singing on a small stage on the ice while her father skated.