Jason Brown

Jason Brown leads U.S. short program; quad debate stoked

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Jason Brown wowed the crowd (again) and shocked himself, posting the second-highest short program in U.S. Championships history Friday night.

The Sochi Olympian scored 93.36 points and, at 20 years old, is now poised to become the youngest U.S. men’s champion since Johnny Weir won the first of his three straight titles in 2004. Brown’s mouth was agape when the score was revealed.

“I was beyond shocked,” Brown told Icenetwork. “Excited doesn’t even fit the term.”

But the competition is close. He leads 2013 World junior champion Joshua Farris by 2.96 points and four-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott by 3.43.

Brown will go for his first U.S. title in the free skate on Sunday (NBC and Live Extra, 4 p.m. ET). He’ll be favored to lead a three-man U.S. team for March’s World Championships, a roster that will be chosen after the U.S. Championships.

Brown came to Greensboro, N.C., as the favorite and delivered under that pressure Friday night. He executed a triple Axel, triple flip-triple toe loop combination and a triple Lutz (video here).

Brown was second to Abbott at the 2014 U.S. Championships and finished ninth at the Sochi Olympics. He was the top U.S. man in the Grand Prix season that concluded in December.

Farris, a 20-year-old who beat Brown at the 2013 World Junior Championships, was a surprising second Friday (video here). He had pulled out of a Grand Prix series assignment in November with an ankle injury and finished 11th in his other Grand Prix event. He’s never finished better than fourth at a U.S. Championships.

“I am so surprised that I performed as well as I did,” Farris said in a press conference. “I was terrified going into the short program, so the fact that I skated like that, I was ecstatic.”

Abbott recorded the highest short program ever at the U.S. Championships, 99.86 last year. He skated clean again Friday, two weeks after the death of his father, raising a hand to the air after his short program (video here).

“We made a nice, strong statement that figure skating can be an art as well as a sport,” Abbott said of himself, Brown and Farris.

None of Brown, Farris and Abbott attempted a quadruple jump Friday.

“To be rather blunt, I think this is a rather tired topic,” Abbott said. “We all know that we have to have a quad at the world stage to medal … but I think that attention needs to be paid to detail. … Figure skating is a craft, and the craft can sometimes be a little overlooked. I think it’s important to have both, to be honest. I know Josh can do a quad, and I can do a quad. I haven’t seen Jason, but I’m sure he’s working on it.”

Abbott said he completely rebuilt his biomechanics off the ice leading into this season.

“I’ve been playing catch-up all season,” Abbott said. “The quad is starting to come.”

Brown said he doesn’t want to sacrifice other parts of his skating in order to incorporate the quad, which he has trained but doesn’t currently have in his competition programs.

“I won’t lose my artistry because of the quad,” Brown said. “It will just enhance the program.”

Farris said he’s planning a quad in his free skate and in the short program the rest of the season.

Aaron, in fourth, is looking to bounce back from finishing a disappointing fourth at last year’s nationals and missing the Olympic team. He landed a quadruple jump (Salchow).

Former U.S. silver medalists Adam Rippon (84.71) and Ross Miner (82.25) were fifth and sixth.

Earlier in ice dance, Madison Chock and Evan Bates edged siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani by .11 in an anticipated short dance duel between two Sochi Olympic couples. Both are going for their first U.S. title in the absence of Sochi gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

The U.S. Championships continue with the pairs free skate and free dance Saturday afternoon (NBC and Live Extra, 3 ET) and the women’s free skate Saturday night (NBC and Live Extra, 8 ET).

McKayla Maroney, Meb Keflezighi get Topps baseball cards

Men’s short program
1. Jason Brown — 93.36
2. Joshua Farris — 90.4
3. Jeremy Abbott — 89.93
4. Max Aaron — 85.78
5. Adam Rippon — 84.71
6. Ross Miner — 82.25

Michael Johnson took Olympic mindset in stroke recovery

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Michael Johnson‘s first walk, reportedly three days after suffering a stroke in the summer, was 200 meters down a hospital corridor.

“It took about 15 minutes,” Johnson said in a BBC video, detailing his full recovery in recent interviews.

Johnson, who at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics swept the 200m (in a world-record 19.32 seconds) and the 400m, suffered what he called “a mini stroke” after a home workout in late August.

Johnson felt not pain but tingling leaving his home gym and underwent a 20-minute MRI. The 50-year-old, who worked out regularly and was in otherwise great physical shape, almost fell rising out of the machine.

“Couldn’t put any weight on left side, no longer could really move my left leg,” Johnson said in the BBC interview. “The numbness of my left arm, which was sort of mild at the beginning and up to that point, was really intense at that point. I couldn’t feel a lot of my arm. You immediately start to think about, what’s my life going to be like going forward?”

There was no immediate answer.

“You start to think about loved ones — is my wife going to have to take care of me for the rest of my life?” Johnson said, according to the Telegraph. “Am I going to be able to walk again? Am I going to be in a wheelchair? Am I going to be able to stand in the shower or go to the restroom alone? You’re forced to think about what your life might be like if that worse-case scenario is reality.”

He began physical therapy early the next week. After that first walk, the distance equivalent of a half-lap of the track that he owned in the 1990s, he told his wife, “I will make a full recovery, and I will make a full recovery faster than anyone has ever done it before,” according to the Telegraph.

Within two weeks, Johnson was backing that up. He tweeted a photo of himself on Sept. 13, his 51st birthday, grimacing while lifting a square-shaped weight with each hand. “Almost back to normal. No days off! Even today. My birthday!” the caption read.

On Sept. 27, Johnson tweeted that it had been grueling, but he relearned to walk and made a full recovery.

“Once I knew that I will make a full recovery, and once I started to believe that, it’s very similar to the type of situation that I experienced as an athlete training for the Olympic Games, then all of a sudden suffering a pulled hamstring,” said Johnson, who fell to the track in the 2000 Olympic Trials 200m final with an upper left leg injury, then won the 400m at his last Games in Sydney. “The reward, in this particular situation, was going to be even greater, was going to be able to walk again, regaining my mobility, regaining my independence.”

MORE: Michael Johnson: My advice to Usain Bolt on retirement

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Tatjana Hüfner, 2010 Olympic luge champion, to retire after this season

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Tatjana Hüfner, a 2010 Olympic luge champion and five-time world champion in singles, said she will retire after this season, according to German newspaper Bild.

Hüfner, 35, cited recent health problems, including back and leg injuries leading into her last Olympics in PyeongChang, where she finished fourth, missing a fourth straight medal by .69 of a second (Hüfner dropped from second place going into the last run). Plus breaking a rib in a training crash this preseason, plus suffering food poisoning, according to the report.

Hüfner, who reportedly said before February’s Olympics that they would be her final Games, has been arguably the most integral luger in Germany’s recent dominance in female sliding.

Her Olympic career began as a spectator at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, watching Sylke Otto lead a German medal sweep. Later, Hüfner would break Otto’s record with five world singles titles, plus join Otto on the podium at Torino 2006, earning bronze. Hüfner took gold in Vancouver, then silver behind the new leading woman, Natalie Geisenberger, in Sochi.

Huefner spent offseasons scaling European peaks such as Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps, the Matterhorn, and the Sella in northern Italy.

This season’s world championships are in Winterberg, Germany, in January.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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