The Inside Edge with Sarah and Drew - Jan. 18

Dornbush on China, Chocolate and U.S. Champs

Richard Dornbush and Chrisha Gossard at the Junior Grand Prix Final banquet.
Richard Dornbush and Chrisha Gossard at the Junior Grand Prix Final banquet. (courtesy Richard Dornbush)


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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to
(01/18/2011) - Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins are back with a pre-nationals edition of The Inside Edge.

Richard Dornbush goes to China, Parker Pennington eats chocolate, and we get ready for Greensboro

It's almost time to start packing for the 2011 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships!

We assume that anyone who reads this blog watched at least some of the Grand Prix series this season, but there are lots of fantastic skaters who didn't make the scene last fall. Here's a preview of a few national competitors you didn't see on the Grand Prix.

Be sure to watch 2010 U.S. junior champion Jason Brown's extremely fun short program to "Baliwood" by the ragtime/tango/western band King City. We called Brown to confirm what his music was; he says he can't wait for next week! We also love Brown's ponytail, of course. May he never cut it.

We already blogged about Wesley Campbell's "Man on Wire" free skate; check out his high-wire act, which we think is the best program he has ever had. We also enjoyed Sean Rabbit's Michael Jackson short program, complete with one glove moon-walking, and some great dance moves.

And, finally, do not miss Jonathan Cassar's Schindler's List free skate.

In the pairs competition, Gretchen Donlan and Andrew Speroff have looked wonderful this season, with beautiful lines and great lifts. We're very interested to see the new teams of Lindsay Davis and 2007 U.S. bronze medalist Themistocles Leftheris, and of course everyone is eager to see two-time U.S. champ Rockne Brubaker and his new partner, Mary Beth Marley.

We'll also be watching for Felicia Zhang, who will be competing in both the senior pair [with Taylor Toth] and senior ladies events.

We know there are many more wonderful skaters and programs we missed this season, too, and we're really looking forward to seeing them next week.

Withdrawals and substitutions
We had planned to start our preview piece with Eastern sectional champion Samantha Cesario. Unfortunately, she has had to withdraw from the championships with a fractured L5 vertebra.

"I've had pain in my back for quite a while but I was hoping it would subside before nationals," Cesario told us. "When I found out it was a fracture and I would have to withdraw I was devastated. I worked so hard and improved so much this year. I felt completely ready to compete with the best of them at nationals, but things happen. I know my injury will heal and I'll be better than ever next year."

Cesario said she'll be off the ice for six weeks; her future plans are, simply, to get better and get back on the ice to prepare for next season.

Meanwhile, fifth place Pacific Coasts finisher Will Michael will be competing in Greensboro in the junior men's event, following the withdrawal of Joey Millet. Keep your eye on Michael, who has a great triple Axel, a jump which eludes many of the other junior men.

Another short program not to miss: Parker Pennington's short program to Chocolat. Pennington choreographed both of his programs this year, for the first time, and we talked to him about the process.

"I hadn't gotten into the artistic stuff too much until the last couple of years or so," he said, "But I found a passion for it and I thought, you know, I think I can do this. I know the rules well enough to structure it."

Why did he decide to skate to Chocolat? "As soon as I heard the music I knew it would be a good fit for me," Pennington told us. "I wanted to do something different, and acting was something I've always been intrigued with. I wanted to translate my experience doing shows to the competitive side."

You'll see that he acts out the story from start to finish.

"I've been working quite a bit on the acting to get all those feelings and emotions across. At the start, I'm a little bit lost and I'm wandering, walking down the streets and I catch a whiff of chocolate. I notice a chocolate shop and I try it. As soon as I do, I get a sense of freedom. As the program goes on, there's a little of the wild, crazy side, a little rebellion. I think everyone in the movie is a little bit lost, and they change their beliefs. Hopefully by the end I'll have everyone wanting some chocolate along with me!"

Pennington's free skate, to "Freedom" by Michael W. Smith, also has a story.

"It's a modern-day Gettysburg, a very emotional piece with a little bit of a military feel to it. I'm kind of falling for this girl, and I'm going through a battle and I lose her, so it's about redemption and fighting for her. It's definitely an emotional piece and quite different from my short program," he said.

The secret to Dornbush's success
Richard Dornbush comes into Greensboro as the Junior Grand Prix Final champion, and he could make an impressive showing in the senior men's competition. We chatted to Dornbush recently about his trip to Beijing for the Final. He said he had never been to China before, but one thing reminded him of his home training base of Los Angeles.

"What with the bad traffic, I felt right at home!" he joked. "Just kidding! In all seriousness Beijing was a great city to have the Final in. But let me tell you what, just driving in that city is a cultural shock and adventure all on its own."

We asked whether Dornbush had visited the two must-see tourist attractions, the Great Wall and the Pearl Market.

"I was planning on visiting a whole bunch of stuff, but because I had the exhibition on Sunday and was studying for finals the rest of the week, I'm afraid I didn't get to see as much as I would have liked. I went to the Pearl market, but I'm afraid I know nothing about pearls."

Although it was Dornbush's first visit to China, it was his third trip to the Junior Grand Prix Final. Did he think the experience helped him win the gold this time?

"Yeah, I really do think the experience helped," he said. "I wasn't necessarily thinking about the previous Finals I had been to, but I was just able to do my stuff regardless of the pressure. "But what I owe my success in China to, was the intense training I went through off-ice prior to the Final."

What was that?

"I ate Panda Express every day," he said. "And I really think it worked out."

We had learned one thing about Dornbush by now: he is a joker!

"Obviously I'm joking," he went on, "But I think that by being able to handle the entire competition as if I were just at home helped out a lot. I've learned not to be a picky eater or let any lack of sleep bother me, because that's what I train through at home. It's sort of a Zen process."

Looking ahead to Greensboro, will Dornbush be changing anything in his programs?

"We'll see," he said. "There's one thing I might change in the beginning of my long. I'm definitely looking forward to nationals because both the top guys, Brandon [Mroz] and Jeremy [Abbott], had scores in the same ballpark as I did, so I'm definitely hoping to challenge for the podium."

One more interesting detail about Dornbush: he played the violin all the way through high school.

"Lately I've been fooling around with the guitar, somewhat, teaching myself how to play," he said. "Maybe Meryl Davis and Charlie [White] and I can have a violin duo and Adam [Rippon] and I a guitar duo."

See you in Greensboro!
Sarah and Drew
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