Jason Brown’s family nervous for free skate, but know ‘he’s won already’

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SOCHI, Russia – Jason Brown’s family is careful not to get in anyone’s way when they come to watch him skate. In order to do so, they sit in the last row of the arena. As in the last, last row.

“I had to pull out binoculars last night,” 15-year-old Dylan told NBCOlympics.com Friday, laughing.

But the family is there for each and every skate of Jason’s, the viral sensation who has already helped win a bronze for the U.S. in the team event and Friday night will go for another medal after finishing sixth in the short program, less than a point out from third place.

They’re a bundle of nerves and excitement and they watch every moment of Jason’s skates – even when they’re tempted to look away.

“We might be watching through our fingers,” said Jason’s older sister, Jordan, 20.

VIDEO: Brown discusses his amazing journey

Nerves for parents and family members can oftentimes be more debilitating than for the athletes themselves at the Olympics. Evan Lysacek’s mom couldn’t bear to watch him skate because it made her so nervous. Aly Raisman’s parents swayed and white-knuckled in their seats during the London Games.

“At Nationals this year we were literally standing up holding one another,” Jordan said. “We were all shaking and crying at different parts of his skate.”

Yet now at the Olympics, the Browns – along with 14 other members of their extended family – have come to watch Jason at the sport’s biggest event, a dream that didn’t start to become a reality for Jason until just a few months ago, Jordan says, when he told her over dinner he thought he might make it.

“Being at the Olympics is just a pinnacle for him,” said his father, Steve. “I don’t know what happens next for Jason, none of us do. So to be here, I certainly want him to do well, but to me he’s won already.”

VIDEO: Jason Brown and his undeniable charisma

Brown is one of seven men within striking distance of a bronze medal Friday night, when he’ll skate at the very end of the line-up against skaters he’s long watched from the sidelines.

“He really idolizes these skaters that he’s competing against, competing with,” Marla, his mother said. “He’s going to want to walk away feeling good about his performance. He can’t control how many quads the other guys land.”

VIDEO: Patrick Chan’s quest for perfection

That’s the caveat: Even if Brown skates his best, he lacks figure skating’s quadruple jump, a points-heavy element that Brown hasn’t yet acquired, though he hasn’t needed it to get as far as he had.

Jordan, Jason and Dylan would often perform for their parents at home when they were kids, putting on shows and concerts and plays. An “extremely competitive” bunch, Jordan said, that would compare hand-writing skills and monkey-bar talents.

“Trust me, he’s competitive,” Jordan clarified. “It’s just very internal for Jason.”

Brown’s authentic energy – and ponytail – have made him a household name after his “Riverdance” free skate caught fire in January. Dylan tracked every view on the video that now totals over 3.5 million on YouTube, though Dylan said he stopped alerting Jason of milestones at the two-million mark. “I couldn’t keep calling him,” he admitted.

Jason will aim for another viral performance Friday night in Sochi, though medal or not, his family will be cheering – from way up high.

“The nice thing about being in the last row is that you’re not disturbing anyone,” Marla said. “You can stand up and scream and yell and cheer and it’s fine. So we do.”

“I think him feeling good about his skating is what is important to us,” Dylan added. “I’m more nervous about how he’s going to feel about his skate than where he ends up in the standings.”

Mikaela Shiffrin wins final slalom for best career season (video)

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Mikaela Shiffrin won her 12th World Cup race this season and seventh slalom, both personal bests, at the World Cup Finals in Are, Sweden, on Saturday.

Shiffrin, who clinched her second World Cup overall title and fifth slalom season title before the last races of the campaign this weekend, prevailed by 1.58 seconds over Swiss Wendy Holdener. PyeongChang gold medalist Frida Hansdotter of Sweden was third.

“The slalom has always been really close to my heart,” said Shiffrin, who won the last two slaloms this season after a shocking fourth-place finish in PyeongChang. “To finish with a run like that was super special.”

Full results are here.

Shiffrin matched Lindsey Vonn‘s American record for World Cup wins in one season — 12 — with one more race Sunday. Only Swiss Vreni Schneider has more women’s World Cup wins in a single campaign with 14.

Shiffrin, who turned 23 on Tuesday, also moved into solo fifth place on the women’s World Cup wins list with 43, including 23 victories in the last two seasons.

If Shiffrin keeps it up, she can move into the top three next season, though Lindsey Vonn‘s record 82 is a ways off.

“I’m not thinking about that so much,” Shiffrin said. “It’s way too soon to set that as my goal.”

Shiffrin is also three World Cup slalom wins shy of the record 35 held by retired Austrian Marlies Schild, whom Shiffrin supplanted as the world’s top slalom skier in 2013.

The World Cup Finals conclude Sunday with the women’s giant slalom. Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA will air live coverage of the second run at 7:30 a.m. ET.

“After today I’m really looking forward to going to the start one more time this season and hammering down,” Shiffrin said.

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Katie Ledecky beaten in NCAA Championships individual medley

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Katie Ledecky lost an NCAA Championships race for the first time in eight career finals, taking second in the 400-yard individual medley on Friday.

Stanford teammate Ella Eastin easily beat Ledecky by 3.69 seconds and grabbed the American and NCAA records from Ledecky, too. Eastin’s 3:54.60 is 1.93 seconds faster than Ledecky’s time from the Pac-12 Championships last month.

How did she do it?

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Eastin said on ESPNU. “I’ve built a lot of endurance this year, and it really showed.”

Eastin is decorated in her own right. She three-peated as NCAA 400-yard IM champion and held the American record in the event before Ledecky lowered it last month.

Eastin would have made the 2017 World Championships team had she not been disqualified for an illegal turn after finishing in second place at nationals.

Ledecky, a sophomore, has never contested the 400m IM at a U.S. Championships, Olympics or world championships, nor did she race the 400-yard IM at 2017 NCAAs. She raced the 400 IM instead of the 200 freestyle on Friday.

All of Ledecky’s races at major meets before Friday were in freestyle events. Her only defeat in a major international meet individual final was the 200m freestyle at 2017 Worlds.

Ledecky won five NCAA titles last year and the last two nights anchored the 800-yard freestyle relay and captured the 500-yard freestyle by eight seconds.

Meet results are here.

Later Friday, Lilly King of Indiana three-peated in the 100-yard breaststroke, breaking her American and NCAA records and winning in 56.25 seconds. King is also the Olympic and world champion in the 100m breast, plus the world-record holder.

“Always excited to get the record, but was really hoping to break 56 today,” King said.

Louisville’s Mallory Comerford became the second woman after Missy Franklin to break 1:40 in the 200-yard freestyle, winning in 1:39.80. Co-Olympic 100m free champ Simone Manuel of Stanford was third. Comerford and Ledecky tied for the 2017 NCAA 200 free title.

Stanford’s Ally Howe won the 100-yard backstroke in 49.70, one hundredth shy of her NCAA and American records. Olympic 100m backstroke silver medalist Kathleen Baker of Cal-Berkeley was third.

NCAAs conclude Saturday. Ledecky swims the 1,650-yard freestyle. She is the overwhelming favorite, having gone 35 seconds faster than anyone this season.

Ledecky hasn’t discussed with Stanford whether she will return for her junior season or turn pro, according to the school.

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