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Prankster Dornbush happy with new reputation

Surprise reigning U.S. silver medalist now hopes to beat expectations

Ricky Dornbush exploded onto the scene at the 2011 U.S. Championships, taking silver.
Ricky Dornbush exploded onto the scene at the 2011 U.S. Championships, taking silver. (Getty Images)

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By Amy Rosewater, special to icenetwork.com
(01/19/2012) - One thing fellow skaters learn very quickly when they train with Ricky Dornbush is to remember exactly where they parked their car.

As many of them have found out, if they are on the ice and Dornbush is not, chances are that he has snared their car keys and moved their car to a new spot. Once, a skater's car wound up in front of the police station, which is next door to the ice rink in Riverside, Calif. Fortunately, the skater realized it was one of Dornbush's pranks before he filed a police report for a stolen vehicle.

"I'm an amateur," Dornbush said with a bit of a sarcastic twinge. "I'm never too mean. But everyone's been a little more watchful of their cars lately."

And of their shoes.

At 5'11", Dornbush is one of the tallest U.S. men's elite skaters, and he recently used his height advantage to store skaters' shoes (including his own) in a ceiling vent at the rink. When the skaters had finished a practice session and took off their skates, they went looking for their shoes. It didn't take long to realize that Dornbush had struck again.

Off the ice, he likes the role of a prankster. On it, however, he is no joke.

An unknown to many when he set foot on the ice at the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, N.C., Dornbush made a name for himself by claiming the silver medal. He did so in incredible fashion. After a seventh-place showing in the short program, Dornbush, in the role of Sherlock Holmes, won the free skate to earn his first trip to the medal podium at the senior level. In doing so, he also earned his first trip to the World Championships, where he placed ninth.

At his first two senior Grand Prix events, he placed fourth not far from his home at Skate America in Ontario, Calif., and then sixth on the other side of the world at Cup of China.

So he enters the 2012 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, Calif., as much more of a known entity.

"There are definitely good sides and bad sides to it," Dornbush said of his predicament entering nationals this year, as compared to a year ago. "Last year, I was off the radar. This year, I feel I have an opportunity and a lot of people have expectations.

"Overall," he added with a laugh, "I'm happier having a reputation."

The nice thing about nationals this year for Dornbush is that they will be held in his home state, and he is just a one-hour flight away from home. He has three older sisters who plan to come watch, as do his parents and several friends from the rink. This is all in comparison to last year when his mom was able to make the cross-country trip to Greensboro at the last minute but was able to witness his breakthrough free skate.

California has been good to Dornbush. It is where he was born (Corona) and it is where he has been able to train with his coach of about 14 years (Tammy Gambill). He has had the unusual figure-skating luxury of being able to live with his family and train simultaneously in an elite environment.

Gambill said she took note of Dornbush when he was a young skater taking group lessons.

"I noticed he loved to skate fast," she said. "It wasn't until later when I saw that he had potential. He and his family have been wonderful to work with, and we are all so lucky that it just jelled together."

In fact, Gambill's daughter, Nicole, skated with Dornbush when they were youngsters and even performed in a rink ice show together. Nicole no longer skates competitively, but Dornbush obviously does. Gambill has a son, Matthew, who is a snowboarder. Matthew is two years older than Ricky, so Gambill and Dornbush's mom have traded parenting tips as well.

"I do get very protective of him," Gambill said. "But it's been so great just to watch him grow up and become a young adult."

Now 20, Dornbush is not only skating but also pursuing a degree in physics at Riverside Community College. He has a short break, which conveniently coincides with nationals. Next semester, his classes will be in differential equations and quantum mechanics -- not exactly a light load.

But he said it is the right equation for him, as it takes his mind off of skating.

"It helps me with my focus," he said. "It's a really good out for me."

Full disclosure: This figure skating reporter's knowledge about physics is limited to knowing that it is a type of science. But when this reporter informed Dornbush that a member of her synagogue in Baltimore was a winner of the Nobel Prize in physics this past year (Adam G. Riess), Dornbush immediately perked up in the interview and spoke freely about Riess' discovery of accelerating expansion of the universe through observations of distant supernovae.

"That's so cool," Dornbush said. "Can you get him to sign something for me?"

At nationals, Dornbush is hoping to be the subject of autograph seekers. He has a quad toe loop in his free skate, which he did not have in his program a year ago.

Gambill told reporters last year that he didn't own a quad yet -- that he just rented it. Although his quads weren't perfect in his two Grand Prix events this season, he has proven he is no longer renting them.

His free skate this season, performed in cowboy attire, showcases his fun-loving style, complete with a bit of gun-slinging, cigarette smoking and whistling. Since the Grand Prix season, he has changed the middle portion of the music. He and choreographer Cindy Stuart felt the program needed a little more energy with transitions.

In an era when many programs seem focused solely on being strategic, Dornbush displays some character and intricate skating skills in addition to the big tricks.

"This is a much harder program for him this year," Gambill said. "He's trying to step it up and challenge himself."

Dornbush hopes his friends will see him fulfill that challenge in San Jose.

And they plan to ... if only they can find their cars.