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.”