Busted boot to blame for Dornbush's low finishes

Razzano works with Bezic; Weir stays alive, skates to 'Poker Face'

Ricky Dornbush and Tammy Gambill are glad the skater's boot problems are behind them.
Ricky Dornbush and Tammy Gambill are glad the skater's boot problems are behind them. (Lynn Rutherford)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(08/24/2012) - It's tough enough for an up-and-comer to face an unexpected 13th-place finish once. Imagine doing it twice in the span of three weeks.

When Ricky Dornbush, the 2011 U.S. silver medalist, turned in subpar performances at the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, most thought it was a fluke. Then the 20-year-old from Riverside, Calif., was assigned to the 2012 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships to fill in for an injured Jeremy Abbott, and came up with the same result: 13th place.

It turns out, a fluke problem -- warping of the right boot -- had thrown off his jumps, but he didn't know it until after he returned from a vacation following Four Continents.

"I went to get my blade sharpened, and my guy said, 'Who did this?'" Dornbush said. "He was getting a little mad at me. He was like, 'I didn't put them on like this.' Basically, the center of my boot had warped.

"So I'm very happy to work with Riedell, who this year produced a new design on the bottom of the boot that has a synthetic material that keeps it from warping in heat, especially in California, where we experience extreme temperatures."

Longtime coach Tammy Gambill was as relieved as Dornbush to uncover -- and fix -- the problem.

"Even in practice, things were not working right. You could tell something was off, but we couldn't figure out what it was," she said. "The blades were twisted; the boots had broken down, so the more he skated on them, the worse it got. He just kept thinking he was going crazy.

"So once the blade was moved over, things started falling back into place and he got his confidence back."

Dornbush showed solid early-season form at the 2012 Glacier Falls Summer Classic, landing a superb quad in the short and handily defeating a field that included Jason Brown, Brandon Mroz and Max Aaron. He debuted two new programs: a short to U2's "With or Without You," choreographed by Vancouver-based Mark Pillay, and a free created by longtime collaborator Cindy Stuart, to a medley of "Rooftops" and "Harlem Nocturne."

"My new free has a very sort of noir-ish, gangster feel to it," Dornbush said. "It is still character driven, but I'd say it's definitely more subtle than the western [free last season.]"

Dornbush, who landed his first-ever quad in international competition at 2011 Skate America, is ramping up his technical content.

"We put the quad toe in the short, and so far I've been training two quads in the long," he said. "I plan to be very competitive on the Grand Prix circuit, certainly technically. Hopefully that, plus my [program] components, will allow me to place well and possibly make the final."

"We put a single quad in the short, and a quad toe-double toe and another single toe in the free," Gambill said. "We want to save a triple toe for the triple Lutz-triple toe. I told him, 'If you land the first one, you get to try the second; if you don't, you have to do a triple Lutz.' He always wants to go for it, so I know he's fighting harder to get that first one done."

Dornbush plans a full schedule: He is slated to compete at the 2012 Golden West Championships next week, as well as his regionals, before his two Grand Prix events, the Rostelecom Cup and the NHK Trophy.

Gambill is fully armed.

"What happened made us be more prepared this season," she said. "We have two boots ready to go, and more blades."

At Golden West, Dornbush will square off against Doug Razzano, who placed a career-best fifth at the 2012 U.S. Championships.

The 23-year-old, known for his solid technical ability, is banking on a new free skate to "Queen Symphony" -- a medley of the British band's hits orchestrated by renowned composer and conductor Tolga Kashif -- to help him break out as a performer.

"It's big, it's dynamic, it's definitely 'more'," Razzano said. "[Last season's] Tango free skate was, at times, introverted. I want to reach out into the audience."

Razzano and coach Doug Ladret, who trains the skater in Scottsdale, Ariz., created the program, and then turned to Sandra Bezic for some window dressing.

"Sandra decorated it, so to speak," Razzano said. "I spent a few days with her in Toronto. She can consult; she cannot choreograph, due to her NBC [commentating] contract. She embellished, she hung the curtains."

Ladret -- a former Canadian pairs champion (with Christine Hough) who worked with Bezic for several years during '90s-era Stars on Ice tours -- thinks Razzano's time with Bezic made a big impact.

"To have somebody of that stature, someone he respects a lot, say, 'Here is what you need to do for the next step' and look at the choreography and say, 'I like this, I like that, you could do more of that,' is huge," Ladret said. "It's to try to pull out the emotion he has within, that he doesn't really like to show to people enough. You could see the change in him immediately, and we're trying to get another time with Sandra to go to the next step."

On the technical side, Razzano and Ladret are working to make the skater's quad toe more consistent, and they plan to have it in his short (to Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 2") at Golden West.

"If I want to be at the top, it needs to be bankable at this point," Razzano said.

Johnny Weir had good news after performing his short to Lady Gaga's "Poker Face."

"I didn't die today, which is a huge plus," he said of skating in altitude at the Colorado Springs World Arena. "And I did all my elements, and it wasn't horrible. It was a little slow, a little heavy breathing.

"This was nerve-wracking for me; I haven't done a competitive routine in front of people in quite some time. Last week, a few judges came to my rink (the Ice House in Hackensack, N.J.) to watch, which is totally different. It felt good to be back out there and have everyone's attention on me and be under the bright lights. It made me more excited about the season to come."

Champs Camp is the three-time U.S. champion's first foray back into the eligible arena since the 2010 Olympic Winter Games and, all in all, he's glad to be here.

"[U.S. Figure Skating] requested I come, and it's part of our new relationship," he said. "I don't think I've changed, and I don't think USFS has changed -- we just accept each other and understand each other. That makes things a lot easier. They've been very supportive throughout this comeback, and I'm doing everything properly. I'm not wearing anything that says 'Russia' on it."

Weir and coach Galina Zmievskaya choreographed "Poker Face," using pieces provided by the artist herself.

"It's very basic and clean at the moment. We wanted to come here and get feedback from everybody," he said. "When we go home, we'll start to go crazy. The costume is half-designed already.

"We're pushing the envelope in the short a little bit, but the free skate (entitled "Phoenix") is very classic Johnny, very pretty music. For the short, we wanted something very modern and edgy and fashionable."

Asked whether, at age 28, he felt comfortable training and competing with younger skaters, Weir didn't hesitate.

"I'm training quads. Everything is going well with that," he said. "I still have a little bit of strength to gain in my core and in my thighs. I'm on the right track."