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Dornbush stuns many, but not benefactor Weiss

Brown shoots for medal at in Korea; next steps for Chen

Richard Dornbush surprised some people with his silver medal in Greensboro, but those that know him best saw it coming.
Richard Dornbush surprised some people with his silver medal in Greensboro, but those that know him best saw it coming. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(02/04/2011) - Richard Dornbush surprised many with his showing at the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, N.C. last week, but not Michael Weiss.

"Watch out for him," Weiss said a few days before the U.S. Championships while on a break from a Smucker's Stars on Ice appearance at New York's Rockefeller Center.

"I just watched his [winning] free skate from the Junior Grand Prix Final. He skates like that, who knows."

Weiss' goodwill extends beyond admiration. Dornbush and 19 other athletes recently received a scholarship from the Michael Weiss Foundation, which assists up-and-coming U.S. figure skaters. The two last crossed competitive paths at the 2006 U.S. Championships in St. Louis; Dornbush placed sixth in novice and Weiss, a three-time U.S. champion, competed one last time, placing fourth in seniors.

"He has always been supportive," Dornbush said. "I'm a previous [scholarship] recipient, and I'm very grateful for what he's done for me and for giving back to the sport."

If Dornbush keeps skating the way he did in Greensboro he may be able to follow Weiss' lead in both charitable efforts and champion status.

The 19-year-old Californian, who placed 11th in his first trip to U.S. seniors last season, climbed from eighth after the short program to win the free skate and the silver medal with a flawless showing to Hans Zimmer's Sherlock Holmes soundtrack, choreographed by Cindy Stuart. Now, he's on the U.S. team for the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships in Tokyo in March.

Dornbush reeled off two fine triple Axels -- one in combination with a triple toe -- and six other triples, all the while staying as cool and collected as the suave character he portrayed.

"Everyone feels a bit nervous competing, but I try not to dwell on it," he said. "It passes away.

"There is a danger getting into the [Holmes] character too much, it can sometimes make you lose your focus [on the jumps]. But it's something I enjoy and I enjoy practicing, so in that aspect it helped."

Dornbush -- who won his Junior Grand Prix title in Beijing in December by a whopping 33.51 points -- took the week in stride, starting with tweaking his free skate to accommodate the switch from junior to senior ranks.

"The Final was a big boost in confidence for me," he said. "I'm not under too much pressure. I just want to show what I can do.

"For the free, we added [30] seconds to the second half, but the jumps are all in the same place. There's some different choreography."

"I actually like the senior version of his program better," the skater's coach, Tammy Gambill, said.

While her pupil seemed to carry Holmes' insouciance throughout the program, Gambill -- who has taught Dornbush for nearly 13 years, now in Riverside, Calif. -- brushed away a tear during the routine's closing seconds.

"After the last jump, I sort of let go," she said. "I got emotional."

Gambill remembered Dornbush's first steps on the ice, when mom Shelley enrolled him in a learn-to-skate group class.

"He was a tow-headed little boy, always trying to outrace the other kids," she said. "He was adorable.

"His mom asked if he was ready for private lessons, and I said yes, and we've been going ever since. He's a bright young man."

With the scores he has been posting so far this season, there's little doubt Dornbush can start competing with the world's best senior men. With solid jumps and emerging artistry, the only thing he lacks is a quadruple jump. That may be temporary.

"It wasn't ready for nationals, but he's started to land quad toes in practice," Gambill said. "Right now, he doesn't own the quad; he rents it."

More rising stars
Pony-tailed Jason Brown, the 2010 U.S. junior champion, brought a cheering Greensboro crowd to its feet with a stunning free skate to the Turandot aria "Nessun Dorma."

The 16-year-old showed speed and lots of flair, placing seventh in the free and ninth overall in his senior debut.

"That's the best [free skate] I ever ran," he said. "I've been consistent with them. It's really a dream come true to get the audience up; it was amazing, the whole entire crowd."

Brown hit seven triples, including a triple Lutz-triple toe combination. One of the final pieces in the puzzle, a triple Axel, is coming "close."

"It's a journey...I've grown four inches since last nationals, so that's been tough," Brown, who estimates he is now "five-five or five-six," said.

"The strategy was to come here without a triple Axel, to produce a good competition with clean programs, and show that Jason's a solid competitor," Brown's coach of 11 years, Kori Ade, said.

Brown, who next competes at the 2011 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in South Korea Feb. 28-Mar. 6, looks forward to another season on the Junior Grand Prix circuit.

"One more year would help me grow mentally, physically and [in terms of] skating skills and jumps," he said. "I can be an even better senior.

"I'd like to skate like Ryan Bradley, Johnny Weir and [fellow Chicagoan] Evan Lysacek, a combination of all three. And Jeremy Abbott, I really like him, too."

A sophomore at Highland Park High School with a newly minted driver's license, Brown travels all over suburban Chicago to get his training in.

"I skate at many rinks. In the morning, I'm at Centennial [Ice Arena]. In the afternoons, it's Twin Rinks [Ice Pavilion], Northbrook [Sports Center], and other rinks -- all over the North Shore."

"Hopefully I'll finish in the top three [at World Juniors] and bring home a medal," he said. "Then I want to go home and work on the triple Axel for next season.

"I really believe I can get it next season. This nationals has helped boost my confidence mentally. It's a good start."

Chen to move up ranks
Another Weiss scholarship recipient, Nathan Chen, is now the only "man" to win back-to-back U.S. novice titles. The 11-year-old will tackle the junior ranks next season. In Greensboro, the diminutive Chen -- who showed off Gumby-like flexibility in his spins -- landed six triples, including two Lutzes, in his free skate. He won by some 35 points.

"The reason he stayed back in novice [this season] is he did not have all of his triples last year," Chen's coach, 1989 world junior pair champion Genia Chernyshova, said. "To put all [of the triples] in a single program would take longer. It was a difficult decision for him. Now his goal is to move up to juniors and start doing a triple-triple combination."

The triple Axel, landed by 2011 U.S. junior titlist Max Aaron, isn't there yet, but Chernyshova thinks Chen is making progress.

"He's doing it on the floor," she said. "It's there, and now we're slowly moving it on to the ice."

The coach, who trains Chen in Salt Lake City, said the young skater's biggest challenge is maintaining the stamina and focus to get through a program.

"Right now, it takes a lot of effort for him to finish his long program, but he will be very capable with one more year of strength and more maturity."

"Sometimes I feel his mind is 15-year-old, sometimes I think he's 10. Most of the time he's a lot more mature. He likes performing, he likes attention and he can handle it really well. [Greensboro] was good practice for the future."