Jason Brown

‘Starstruck’ Jason Brown relishes fame

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Does Jason Brown know how popular he’s become? Yes, he’s checked YouTube.

Brown, 19, took second at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships two weeks ago and is the youngest U.S. men’s Olympic singles skater since 1976.

He rocketed to fan favorite status with his Riverdance style free skate Jan. 12, which has more than 2.7 million views on YouTube.

“The most hits that I’ve ever gotten before this was 8,000,” he said in a media teleconference Wednesday. “I would freak out if there was more than 100 people.”

The reception of the sudden and well-earned attention drips off his gushy, bubbly personality.

“It is so beyond everything I ever imagined,” Brown said. “I can’t even put to words how blown away, I don’t even know what to say. It’s so shocking. I don’t even know where to start.”

Brown said he returned to his Colorado training center the day after the U.S. Championships. You might not believe the scene.

“Half the lights are off,” Brown said. “I was the only one at the rink.”

On the ice, nothing has changed for Brown. He’s preparing for the first of what he hopes is three Olympics in Sochi and hoping to improve on his performance at the U.S. Championships.

“I am still the same person before I left for nationals,” he said. “I’m that crazy guy with long hair who loves to skate and loves to perform.”

He’s taken the motto, “Reschedule. Don’t delete,” in adjusting to increased requests for his time and camera crews at his rink.

“I’m not used to the spotlight,” said Brown, whose ponytail has a Twitter account with a few hundred followers. “But I’m really enjoying it.”

He’s asked advice of Olympic coaches and skaters, including Emily and Sarah Hughes, of how to deal with his first major senior international competition in Sochi.

He said he’d relish the chance to pick 1984 Olympic champion Scott Hamilton‘s brain and was told 1948 and 1952 Olympic champion Dick Button was one of the 2.7 million viewers of his YouTube skate.

“That is like oh my gosh,” Brown said. “I don’t even know how to express how crazy cool that is.”

He regrets passing up the chance to meet two-time Olympic medalist Michelle Kwan last year.

“I get really, really starstruck around people,” he said, mentioning his mom urged him to approach Kwan. “I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I can’t do it. [Kwan] left without me even asking for a picture. I was so scared.”

He’s even in awe of his peers. He called a November experience in Paris sharing warm-up ice and a podium with gold-medal favorites Patrick Chan of Canada and Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan surreal.

It came one month after Brown, the reigning world junior silver medalist, was second after the short program in his senior Grand Prix series debut at Skate America. Brown tumbled to fifth after being a little too excited in his free skate then.

It meant the world to rebound in Paris and beat everyone except Chan and Hanyu.

“To be in the press conference after that with those two guys, it really proved that [Skate America] wasn’t a fluke,” Brown said. “It made me believe that anything is possible.”

Brown is unfettered by Sochi security issues, stating matter-of-factly that 16 family members are traveling to watch him.

“I’m going to be bouncing off the walls excited,” Brown said. “At the same time it is a competition, so I will get that focus, after the Opening Ceremony.”

So, does anything rattle Brown? He’s grown from throwing temper tantrums on the ice at 7 or 8 to turning to a psychologist in the rare times he’s upset now — as little as as once a month.

He’s trying to stay grounded and believes he can win a medal in Sochi. It’s not out of the question given the shaky depth of the men’s field.

His motivation? His coach’s first words to him after his dazzling free skate at the U.S. Championships.

“This was a little slow, that could have been better, that was two-footed,” Brown said. “For not even one second did I think that that was the best performance I’ve ever done.”

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Mary Cain ‘back to basics’ after ‘disappointing year’

Mary Cain
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Mary Cain, who in 2013 became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to make a World Championships team and turned pro at age 17 later that fall, is spending her run-up to next year and the 2016 Olympics home in New York rather than returning to Oregon where she went to college and trained last year.

In June, Cain finished eighth in the 1500m at the U.S. Championships, missing the top-four placement necessary to make the World Championships team.

“After a disappointing year, I knew that I needed a change,” Cain said in a blog post Tuesday. “For me, that meant returning home to New York (and its bagels) or where it all started. With 2016 being such an important year, it’s a blessing to be able to, as my mom says, ‘Go back to basics.'”

Cain, who was a freshman at the University of Portland last year, is still coached by three-time New York City Marathon champion Alberto Salazar with the aid of New Zealand 2004 Olympic 10,000m runner John Henwood, according to the blog.

“We’re trying to get [running] back to fun with her,” Henwood said, according to Runner’s World.

Cain moved from Bronxville, N.Y., to Portland after graduating high school last year, completing a decorated prep career filled with records and state and national titles. She trained with Salazar’s group, which includes Olympic 10,000m gold and silver medalists Mo Farah and Galen Rupp.

Cain won the World Junior Championships 3000m in 2014 and became the youngest woman to make a senior World Championships 1500m final in 2013, when she finished 10th.

“I always said the key to running well was keeping the sport fun,” Cain said in the blog post. “With the help of this great NY running community, I am happy to say that I have found that love again! I’m looking forward to a rewarding Indoor and Outdoor season.

“Thanks to everyone who has supported me through the ups and downs! I hope to make 2016 a year to remember!”

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Brazil’s best tennis player: ‘tough to dream’ of Rio Olympic medal

Thomaz Bellucci
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Thomaz Bellucci admits playing at a home Olympics brings at least some pressure.

“To well represent Brazil,” the Sao Paulo native clarified at the U.S. Open in New York last month. “It’s tough to dream about having a medal.”

The 27-year-old Bellucci is the only Brazilian tennis player, man or woman, ranked in the world top 50. He sits at No. 31, having this season reached his first ATP final since 2012 and winning it at the Geneva Open in Switzerland in May.

Brazil’s Olympic Committee set a target of 27 to 30 medals in Rio, after earning 17 at London 2012. The added glory likely won’t come from tennis, a sport in which a Brazilian has never stood on an Olympic podium.

“For the Olympics, I don’t feel too many pressure,” Bellucci said, “because even if I play in Brazil, I know there are many players more favored than me because [Roger] Federer‘s going to play, [Novak] Djokovic, all these guys have so much more pressure than me because they have more chance to have a medal.”

Olympic tennis gained greater significance on the busy tour calendars among top players with recent Games.

On the men’s side, every medalist from 2008 and 2012 had already reached at least one Grand Slam final in his career. That group of six included Federer (2012 silver), Djokovic (2008 bronze), Rafael Nadal (2008 gold) and Andy Murray (2012 gold).

But if Bellucci and the Brazilians look back, they can find unexpected, inspiring runs. In 1996, Brazil’s Fernando Meligeni came to the Atlanta Games ranked No. 95 in the world, having never made it past the fourth round of a Grand Slam.

The charismatic Meligeni, a lefty who sometimes played wearing his cap backwards, reached the final four in Stone Mountain, twice playing for a medal, and hitting a tweener on the penultimate point of his semifinal against Spain’s Sergi Bruguera.

He lost both medal-round matches, including the bronze match to Indian Leander Paes, who won the U.S. Open mixed doubles last month with another 1996 Olympic singles tennis player, Swiss Martina Hingis. Hingis is attempting to return to the Olympics next year for the first time since 1996.

In 2004, Chile’s Nicolas Massu won singles and doubles gold in Athens having never reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam in singles.

Bellucci debuted at the Olympics in 2008 and hasn’t won a single Games match. He rose from a No. 85 overall ranking in Beijing to No. 42 going into the London 2012 Olympics, where he forced then-Wimbledon semifinalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to three sets. Bellucci and partner Andre Sa were the only doubles pair to take a set off Americans Bob and Mike Bryan at London 2012.

“Beijing I was very surprised, because I was very young and had no idea,” Bellucci said. “In London, I had a very tough draw against Tsonga. Let’s see if I can have more luck in Brazil to have a better draw.”

Not even the great Gustavo Kuerten could sniff an Olympic medal. The three-time French Open champion — the only Brazilian man to win a Grand Slam — couldn’t do better than the quarterfinals in 2000 and 2004.

The analysis of Bellucci in the scope of Kuerten, who is of a similar tall, thin build, has silenced in recent years.

“They used to say that when I was young, when I was starting to play well,” said Bellucci, whose four ATP titles came on Kuerten’s favorite surface, clay, while the Rio Olympic tournament will be on hard courts. “They want to compare me and Guga [Kuerten], but anyway they are not comparing anymore because Guga is so much bigger than me.”

As much as Bellucci tries to keep expectations low, he urges that his sport is one of the most popular in Brazil.

“I think soccer, for sure, is No. 1 and then volleyball is second and then tennis, I think,” he said. “I think we have more people playing tennis than volleyball because I think all the ages can play tennis.”

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