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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.”

U.S. figure skating could have its best world team since 2006

Nathan Chen performs during the men's free skate competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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KANSAS CITY — U.S. figure skating has a shot at medals in three of four disciplines at the world championships in Helsinki in two months, which hasn’t happened in 11 years.

Before this year, the U.S. men and U.S. women hadn’t boasted simultaneous medal contenders in a decade. Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek spent the 2010 Olympic cycle in the world elite, while the U.S. women faded. After they stopped competing, Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold moved into the women’s medal field while the U.S. searched for a new leading man.

He’s arrived. Nathan Chen confirmed he is one of the world’s best male skaters by landing a record seven quadruple jumps between two programs at Sprint Center this past week.

The 17-year-old already made the podium in an event that featured the world’s best, earning silver at the Grand Prix Final in December. Chen struggled with his short-program jumps at the Grand Prix Final and attempted one fewer quad overall yet still outscored everybody but Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu.

Of all of the U.S. medal hopes at worlds, Chen may face the stiffest trio of challengers. Not only is there Hanyu, but also two-time reigning world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain, plus Japan’s Shoma Uno, all of whom rank higher than Chen in best total scores in international competition this season.

MORE: Chen believes Olympic gold is possible after U.S. title

Wagner, who shares a coach with Chen, did not have her best nationals. She finished second to surprise winner Karen Chen (no relation to Nathan), who has yet to factor internationally.

But Wagner said before and after the U.S. Championships that her focus was to peak for the world championships. The goal for nationals was to make the world team, which required not winning but finishing in the top three. Mission accomplished.

The concern with Wagner is that she hasn’t produced a world medal-caliber result yet this season. Her best score from the fall ranks her sixth among women going to worlds. But Wagner has shown in the last few seasons that she can pull it together for major events. There’s her 2016 World Championships silver medal, plus her three straight Grand Prix Final medals from 2012-14.

At worlds, Wagner will have to deal with a Russian trio capable of sweeping the podium, three strong Japanese skaters, plus the revelation of this season, Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond.

VIDEO: Wagner passed Puffs in emotional press conference moment

The U.S.’ strongest discipline continues to be ice dance. Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates finished second and third at the 2016 World Championships. They went one-two at the U.S. Championships this past week.

But two ice dance medals don’t appear to be in the cards in Helsinki. That’s because Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who earned gold and silver at the last two Olympics, came back this season after a two-year break.

Virtue and Moir broke international scoring records in the fall, sweeping their four starts. The two-time reigning world champions, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, also beat the U.S. couples at the Grand Prix Final.

The Shibutani siblings and Chock and Bates have never finished ahead of Virtue and Moir in competition. Neither has bettered the French since the December 2014 Grand Prix Final, either.

But all it takes is one dance medal, plus Chen and Wagner at their best in Helsinki, and the U.S. could go into the Olympic year in its best place since 2006.

MORE: Gracie Gold comments on split from coach Frank Carroll

Laurie Hernandez discusses life after Rio, new book on TODAY (video)

Laurie Hernandez
TODAY
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Laurie Hernandez‘s book, “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond,” is out Tuesday, and the Olympic champion gymnast stopped by TODAY on Monday to discuss its contents and life post-Rio.

An excerpt on Hernandez’s experience in Rio and the story of her floor-exercise wink to judges, is here.

On TODAY, Hernandez discussed another interesting anecdote from the book about tissues.

“Before Olympic Trials, we went out to eat, and I had a little breakdown because practice was really rough, and my routines weren’t coming the way I wanted them to,” she said. “This poor waitress kept bringing me over piles of tissues. … We were leaving, and my sister [Jelysa] told my dad, I’m going to save these tissues. I’m going to give them to her when she makes the team. I’m thinking to myself, you guys are crazy, this is not going to happen.”

Hernandez went on to finish second to Simone Biles at the Olympic Trials and make the five-woman Olympic team as the first U.S. female Olympian born in the 2000s.

The family celebrated the achievement, where Jelysa handed the tissues to Hernandez in a bag.

“Even when you fell, you couldn’t believe in yourself, we were there for you,” Jelysa told her.

“So it was a really defining moment,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez is away from gymnastics while promoting her book and touring with “Dancing with the Stars,” but she is expected to return to the sport at some point.

MORE: Hernandez explains 2017 goals: First date, driver’s license, Law & Order