It’s been a roller coaster ride for USA’s Timothy Dolensky these past 18 months. The 19-year-old experienced the highs and lows of competitive figure skating firsthand, and is beginning to understand what life is like in the glare of the spotlight.
As the 2012 U.S. junior men’s silver medalist, Dolensky seems to be climbing the ladder of success. Following his bronze medal win as a novice in Spokane, Wash., Dolensky had a stellar summer/fall season. His summer competitions were solid, and earned him an invitation to compete on the Junior Grand Prix circuit for the first time.
With a 4th place finish at the event in Sheffield, England, Dolensky was a favorite at the 2011 Eastern Sectional Championships to earn a berth to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, N.C.
“After placing 4th on the Junior Grand Prix, I was expected to make nationals,” he explained. “I had a bit of a mental problem and a back issue that kept me from skating my best in the competition.”
Dolensky finished in a distant 5th place—one spot away from qualifying to compete in Greensboro. With his season cut short, the Kennesaw, Ga., resident used the extra time to get himself back into fighting shape.
“I had a lot of time to work on the things that weren’t working for me,” he said. “I was able to let my back heal, and I worked on becoming a stronger competitor. The time off allowed me to recharge.”
When the summer season came around, Dolensky was ready to show what he had been working on all of those months away from competition. At the Broadmoor Open in Colorado Springs, Colo., in June, he won the junior men’s short program, and followed it up with a respectable free skate. A month later, he performed even better at the Liberty Summer Competition in Aston, Penn.
“Because of my strong summer results, I was placed into the International Selection Pool,” Dolensky said. “I wasn’t expecting to get an assignment, but (another skater) got injured, so I was given his spot as an alternate.”
Dolensky was assigned to compete in the first event of the Junior Grand Prix series in Riga, Latvia, where he finished with the bronze medal. His podium finished earned him a second competition in Innsbruck, Austria, where he finished in 4th place.
“It was a great confidence boost that U.S. Figure Skating thought highly enough of me to give me an assignment,” he said. “After not qualifying for nationals, I didn’t think that it would happen.”
Back on the competitive radar, Dolensky headed to the 2012 Eastern Sectionals once again as a favorite to earn one of the four junior men’s spots up for grabs for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, Calif. This time he easily qualified, finishing in 2nd place, well above the rest of the field.
In San Jose, Dolensky remembers feeling confident and ready to compete. With wunderkind Nathan Chen as the pre-competition favorite, Dolensky knew that he was going to have to be impressive to have a chance to win the title.
“Nathan had all of this momentum heading into the competition, but I knew that I had a small shot to win,” he recalled. “I thought it would be pretty close if I skated well.”
Dolensky skated his Windfall short program—a piece of music that he wrote himself, almost perfectly, and took a .05 point lead into the free skate.
“Composing my own music was definitely an advantage for me,” he said. “It’s easy to understand the music when you write it yourself, and I was able to cater it specifically to a skating program. When you have to cut music to fit your program, it’s sometimes not as seamless as you would like to be. I knew where each element would go because I composed the music for that particular element.”
In the free skate, Dolensky performed well, but managed only 3rd place in that phase of the competition. However, he was able to hold on to win the silver medal behind Chen.
“I was so excited to get the silver medal,” he said. “I was confident on the day of the (free skate), but I felt a little off. It would have been easy for me to get frantic real quick, but I stayed on my feet. The goal was to win, but I can say that I did everything that I could do on that day, and I’m proud of that.”
Because Chen had not yet met international age requirements to compete at the World Junior Championships, Dolensky was named to the three-man team who competed in Minsk, Belarus.
“Getting named to the team was a reward for what I had done last season,” Dolensky said. “Because the field was incredibly talented, I knew that I wasn’t going to medal in the competition, so it was approached as an experience builder.”
Dolensky finished in 12th place, earning a personal best in the short program.
“Junior Worlds is nothing like a Junior Grand Prix event,” he said. “All of the top skaters are there, and they are all ready to compete. I landed my second triple-triple combination in competition there, and I feel proud of what I did.”
With his junior days behind him—Dolensky is now too old to compete junior internationally and recently passed his senior tests in the U.S. Figure Skating system. He is preparing to make the big leap up to senior this season.
“I’ve been working on a lot of technical things since Junior Worlds,” he shared. “I know that this is a big step, and I have been putting a lot of work in so that I can compete.”
Dolensky knows that one thing that he has to have in his arsenal is a triple Axel jump, and he is working hard so that he can put it into his programs this season.
“I’ve landed them before,” he said. “Two years ago before I hurt my back, but the pressure wasn’t on then. Now it’s much more important.”
Beyond the triple Axel, Dolensky is pushing hard to improve his component scores—a daunting task for most skaters making the big leap from junior to senior.
“I have to step it up in all areas,” he said knowingly. “I want to look as mature as I possibly can.”
And the Kennesaw State University freshman is putting in the work—increasing the intensity of his training and adding daily trips to the gym to his schedule.
“I understand how important power is to success in the senior men’s division,” he said. “I’m skating at least twice a day now, and I am going to the gym every day. I don’t really do much outside of skating because I am saving all of my energy for training. I don’t have much energy left at the end of the day for other things.”
And while most kids his age are preparing to enjoy the summer, Dolensky knows that this is when his toughest work has to be put in.
“Summer is hard,” he said with a laugh. “It’s where I put most of my time in for the season. As the season progresses, I start to back off on the off ice training, so it gets easier for me. Right now I am pretty tired at the end of the day, but it’s getting a little bit easier.”
Dolensky’s home base is in his hometown of Kennesaw, where he trains on a regular basis with Debbie Prachar and Brittney Bottoms.
“I split my time pretty evenly between Debbie and Brittney,” he said. “Debbie focuses a lot of time on the technical side of my skating, while Brittney is more program oriented. Both of them know their stuff, and I am in great hands.”
Though Dolensky admits to loving his current training situation, Georgia is not exactly a hot bed of skating. So this summer he will once again travel to Colorado Springs to train alongside some of the top skaters in the country.
“It’s really fun for me to be in such a competitive environment, and it kind of kick starts my level of motivation,” he explained. “This season I’ve made a lot of friends from there because I was able to compete so often. I think it will be a lot of fun!”
When in Colorado Springs, Dolensky takes full advantage of what the world-class facility has to offer.
“I like to work with Kathy Casey when she is available,” he explained. “I also work with Christy Krall on Dartfish and Erik Schulz in the pole harness. We don’t have either of those at home, so I like to take advantage of it while I’m there.”
This summer, Dolensky will again work with Colorado Springs based choreographer Catarina Lindgren, a 1984 Olympian and four-time Swedish ladies champion.
“We’re still working on selecting music for my free skate, and we hope to have it selected before I go,” he said. “Catarina will choreograph the program from start to finish, which will take up a lot of the time while I’m there.”
Dolensky will also make his season debut while in Colorado Springs, once again competing in the Broadmoor Open in the middle of June.
“I’ll only be competing my short program this season,” he said. “I’ll be using an instrumental version of Beyond the Sea. It’s kind of jazzy, and is definitely outside of the box for me.”
Dolensky will also compete at the end of July at Skate Detroit, deviating from his usual schedule of competing at the Liberty Summer Competition.
“I want to try something new this summer, and so we’ve decided to go to Detroit instead. I will skate both of my programs there,” he said.
When he’s not training, Dolensky is focusing on his studies at Kennesaw State University.
“My house is right next to the campus, so it’s easy for me to get to,” he said. “I’m an Exercise and Health Science major, and though I’ve been taking classes for two years, I am only a freshman. I take a couple of classes each semester, and I just finished for the summer.”
Going to school, Dolensky says, is a way to keep him in tune with the real world.
“It helps keep me normal in some way,” he said laughing. “I also take piano lessons each week just for myself. Outside of that, I have a group of friends from high school who all go to college locally, so we get together to hang out when we can.”
Originally from Alabama, Dolensky’s family relocated to the Atlanta area in 2000 for his father’s work. These days, Dolensky considers it a treat to head back to his grandparent’s home in Alabama for a summer vacation.
“They live on the river, so there is so much to do,” he explained. “We go swimming, and do a lot of water skiing.”