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Jason Brown reshapes career trajectory ahead of Skate Canada and 2022 Olympics

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TORONTO – Jason Brown was feeling out possibilities to continue his competitive skating career with a new coach, and he figured it made sense to see what it might be like to work with Brian Orser and his team.

So, Brown came in mid-April to the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club, with no promise other than the opportunity to do a couple training sessions with the coaches who had produced singles champions at the last three Olympics. Orser & Co. already had a rink full of elite talents, with more expected, and he was not sure if there was room for another.

No sooner had Brown taken the ice with several other skaters, the room was his.

“He started skating, and everyone else stopped and watched,” said Tracy Wilson, the Olympic ice dance bronze medalist and Orser’s co-coach, who helped convince Orser that Brown’s energy, enthusiasm and skill would be good for everyone else at the rink.

“What he came with to the club is incredible,” she continued. “He is all in every step. The arms. The free leg. His flexibility. The split jumps out of nowhere. Everything is at such a high level. It’s show-stopping.”

For all that, Brown’s competitive skating career had been stopped dead in its tracks by his failure to make the 2018 U.S. Olympic team. He had made no plans beyond competing at the 2018 Winter Games.

“At the end of last season, I was mentally distraught and emotionally torn apart,” Brown said during a lengthy interview between training sessions in Toronto.

It was only after he spent six weeks late last winter with his parents in Palm Springs, Calif., and a couple weeks in early spring touring New Zealand with his sister that Brown, 23, decided he wanted to move forward as a competitive skater.

“I know I have more to give to the sport,” he said.

And that was when things got hard.

To go on, Brown realized he needed to make a dramatic change, to take more charge of planning his career after a season in which, without giving details, he felt pulled in different directions by U.S. Figure Skating, by his coach, Kori Ade, and by his own ideas.

That change meant leaving Ade, the only coach he had known for the 18 years since starting to skate at age 5. Ade is the person he still calls a second mom, the coach with whom he had moved from suburban Chicago to Colorado after his high school graduation, the coach with whom he made the 2014 Olympic team after the show-stopping free skate at the U.S. Championships that turned him into an overnight Internet sensation. He won a team bronze medal and was ninth in singles at the 2014 Winter Games.

Brown, who went on to become the 2015 U.S. champion before battling an injury and generally losing ground as the quadruple jump revolution swept men’s singles, said he had told Ade in January in a face-to-face discussion of his intention to explore other coaching options. When the split became official with the late May announcement he was going to Toronto, Ade answered a text message seeking her comment on Brown’s decision by saying, “I’ll respond when I have a chance.”

After five months and a follow-up text message to Ade: crickets.

Brown said they exchanged hugs upon seeing each other at U.S. Figure Skating’s Champs Camp in late August but have had no other interaction.

“It hasn’t been easy, and it wasn’t easy,” Brown said. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it and say everything is butterflies and rainbows, as much as I wish it was.

“I have no hard feelings towards Kori. I love her.”

Four months after moving to Toronto, as he prepared for his Grand Prix season debut at Skate Canada in Laval, Quebec, Friday afternoon, Brown had similar feelings about the difficulty of the new path he has chosen. It has involved working with three Cricket Club coaches – Wilson, Lee Barkell and Karen Preston – rather than one primary coach, an arrangement he knew before signing on would be the case.

Just how hard it is for even an outstanding skater to start over in a completely different environment was underscored by his poor free skate and fourth-place finish at last month’s Autumn Classic International, the first time Brown had finished below second in seven Challenger Series events during his career.

“I definitely learned (from Autumn Classic) it’s going to take time to fully transition with my new team,” Brown said. “While it’s been an incredible first few months, learning a new technique is challenging.”

Orser has been reworking Brown’s jump technique, hoping to find the method that will allow him to land a fully-rotated quadruple jump for the first time in competition. Lack of a quad has put Brown at a considerable competitive disadvantage.

His spins and footwork sequences and flourishes like the split jumps are nearly always brilliant.  But they didn’t add up to enough points as rivals began ching chinging scores by routinely landing two quads in the short program and three or more in the free skate.

These numbers are telling: at the 2015 World Championships, when he did not attempt a quad, Brown scored 248.29 points with a couple significant errors and finished fourth, 18 points from the podium; at the 2017 Worlds, with quad mania in full flower, Brown’s considerably higher score (a personal best 269.57) with just one error (a fall on a quad toe attempt) left him seventh, 34 points from the podium.

“It has absolutely been frustrating not to have a quad, no denying that one,” Brown said. “I want to beat that demon.”

Orser, 1984 and 1988 Olympic singles silver medalist, was taught a jump technique that was like climbing onto a step and rotating on the way down from there, which worked fine when triple jumps were the limit. Now he teaches the opposite: starting to rotate on the way up, beginning with the skater having his feet together under him on the takeoff to facilitate the earlier rotation.

Brown said he also is working on head placement and using the core differently than he had on jumps in the past. Wilson, meanwhile, is teaching him a different style of basic skating skills, including stroking.

“It’s not extreme differences,” Brown said. “To an outsider’s perspective, it’s like when a golfer changes their swing. Anyone watching from the outside won’t be thinking, “Oh, my gosh!  Look at how amazing that swing is!’ But the golfer knows, and the golfer can feel the changes that he is going through.”

The trick is to stick with the changes even when they have yet to produce the desired results consistently. Brown found out how hard that was at Champs Camp, the USFS pre-season evaluation sessions, which are not open to the public or media.

“It’s not like I showed up at Champs Camp like, ‘I’m a whole new skater, with whole new tricks, look at me!’” Brown said. “It’s a process.”

He still thought the adrenaline created by showing off the beta version of Jason Brown 2.0, the one without what had been an iconic ponytail, would outweigh his doubts. But the pressure of the situation overwhelmed his excitement, especially since he was aware of the bugs in the new system.

“All I wanted to do was go back to what I knew,” Brown said. “I was fighting with myself, between the old way and the new way.”

The result?

“It was. . .I don’t want to say a disaster, but the (reactions) were all over the map,” he said. “They (USFS officials) know me, and they know there is a transition, and they trust my coaching team, but there are still expectations.

“I had to accept it and forgive myself. I had to take a step back and say, ‘This is where I am right now.’”

It is at moments like this that Brown has drawn strength from the determination of one of his new training partners, Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia, also scheduled to make her Grand Prix season debut at Skate Canada. (NBC, Sunday, 4-6 EDT; complete coverage, NBC Sports Gold “Figure Skating Pass.”)

Her summer transition from training in Moscow with the same Russian coach for 10 years to training in Toronto with Orser was far more emotionally and logistically complicated than his.

Brown had helped Medvedeva, 18, with logistical matters like a ride from the airport and getting a phone and Internet and cable when she and her mother arrived in Toronto. She has helped him psychologically since.

“Knowing what I’m going through and knowing someone that is going through it at a much higher level. . .when I feel like I’m having a difficult time with it, she has been such an inspiration in that sense,” Brown said. “She has more determination and grit than I ever have seen in a training mate. It blows me away.”

Each endured a challenging, dream-destroying 2018 Olympic season on different levels. Medvedeva wound up with the disappointment of narrowly missing the gold medal she once had been heavily favored to win. Brown faced the nightmare of winding up on the sidelines after feeling certain he would make a second straight U.S. Olympic team, then all but giving away his spot with an error-riddled free skate at last year’s national championships.

“For four years, I had expectations of making that Olympic team,” Brown said. “The nightmare is what happened. The way it happened was its own monster.”

For those four years, Brown had measured himself only by results, and that became a self-defeating exercise, given the quad jump handicap he faced on the score sheets. For the rest of his career, he has vowed to judge himself more on intangibles like the simple pleasure of trying to improve in all areas of skating.

“I don’t know if that’s maturity or the fact that my worst nightmare came true, and I’m living, and I’m happy,” Brown said. “For four years, all I tried to do was prove myself result-wise. Then you realize there is so much more to the journey.”

At some point, nearly all skaters have the epiphany that little is to be gained by basing all their satisfaction in pursuing the sport on the largely subjective evaluations of judges.

If the seeming bit of rationalization in that outlook was necessary for Brown to keep competing, so be it. At the same time, he can benefit from the sport having tried to re-balance the value of jumping vs. overall excellence beginning this season by lowering the values of the most difficult jumps, applying component score penalties for falls and expanding the grade of execution range from +3 / -3 to +5 / -5. That means, for example, a triple lutz jump with superior execution can be worth more than a flawed quad with a much higher base value, and more points are available for spins and footwork as excellent as Brown’s.

“It’s not like, ‘You’ve got all this, now you have to get that,’” Tracy Wilson said, referring to quads. “It’s like, ‘This has to be celebrated,’ and we are working on that. With the +5 / -5, we have opportunities with his skating.

“A person walking in off the street will be mesmerized by Jason’s skating. It does not go unnoticed. Greatness can’t be denied.”

As he did at Autumn Classic, where he doubled his attempt at a quad salchow, Brown plans to include one quad, a salchow, in his Skate Canada free skate. Other parts of that long program to a Simon and Garfunkel medley have been tweaked, including the order of the jumps.

“The biggest focus of this year is that as I get a handle on the technique and patterning of elements, we continue to add more transitions and make entries and exits of jumps more difficult,” Brown said. “So, through each event as I gain confidence, you will see changes to my program as we strive to get as many plus-5s as possible.”

This season is just the start of a four-year project for Brown. Even so, Orser wants to see him back among the very elite of U.S. men’s skating.

The U.S. has earned three men’s singles spots for the 2019 World Championships in Japan. Brown is a favorite of the passionate Japanese fans, to whom he has expressed gratitude by developing some facility with their language and posting occasionally in Japanese on social media.

“I would like him to have a solid ‘You’re-going-to-worlds’ placement at his national championships,’” Orser said.

After all, to stop the show on the biggest stages, you have to be in it.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating

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MORE: Nathan Chen wins Skate America by largest margin in event history

What to watch in Olympic sports this week

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Mikaela Shiffrin weathered a chest cold to win her third medal (and second gold) of the World Alpine Skiing Championships on Saturday.

A hectic racing schedule means she doesn’t get much of a break.

Following her performance at Worlds in Are, Sweden, Shiffrin headed to Stockholm for a city event, which involves a series of head-to-head, knockout-style races in a bracket format. That event will re-air tonight at 11:30 PM on NBCSN. The World Cup circuit continues in Switzerland for the women and Bulgaria for the men, where two-time Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety is expected to compete in Sunday’s giant slalom.

Winter sports action continues in Seefeld, Austria, which will host the world’s top cross-country skiers, ski jumpers and nordic combined athletes at the World Nordic Skiing Championships over the next two weeks. The U.S. contingent is headlined by PyeongChang gold medalist Jessie Diggins, who won her first World Cup race of the season, an individual sprint, last Saturday.

Meanwhile, the road to Tokyo passes through New York City with the USA Track and Field Indoor Championships on Staten Island. Two Rio Olympic bronze medalists, Emma Coburn (3000m steeplechase) and Clayton Murphy (800m) headline the U.S. field, along with their Olympic teammate and 2016 world indoor high jump champion Vashti Cunningham. The event will air Saturday and Sunday on NBCSN.

ALPINE SKIING WORLD CUP — Stockholm, Sweden; Bansko, Bulgaria; Crans-Montana, Switzerland

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Tuesday 11:30 a.m. City Event – Stockholm Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
11:30 p.m. City Event – Stockholm* NBCSN
Friday 3:30 a.m. Men’s Combined (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
7:00 a.m. Men’s Combined (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
Saturday 4:15 a.m. Women’s Downhill Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
5:45 a.m. Men’s Super-G Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
Sunday 3:30 a.m. Men’s Giant Slalom (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
4:30 a.m. Women’s Combined (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
6:30 a.m. Men’s Giant Slalom (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
7:30 a.m. Women’s Combined (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
10:30 p.m. Women’s Combined (Run 2)* NBCSN

*Same-day delay

WORLD JUNIOR ALPINE SKIING CHAMPIONSHIPS — Val di Fassa, Italy

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Wednesday 5:00 a.m. Men’s Downhill OlympicChannel.com

BOBSLED AND SKELETON WORLD CUP — Calgary, Alberta

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Friday 4:30 p.m. Women’s Skeleton (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
5:30 p.m. Men’s Skeleton (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
7:00 p.m. Women’s Skeleton (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
8:00 p.m. Men’s Skeleton (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
Saturday 11:00 a.m. Women’s Skeleton (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
12:30 p.m. Women’s Skeleton (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
2:30 p.m. Women’s Bobsled (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
3:30 p.m. Two-Man Bobsled (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
4:45 p.m. Women’s Bobsled (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
Midnight Women’s Bobsled (Run 2) NBCSN
5:45 p.m. Two-Man Bobsled (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
Sunday 10:30 a.m. Men’s Skeleton (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
12:15 p.m. Men’s Skeleton (Run 2) OlympicChannel.com
3:30 p.m. Four-Man Bobsled (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
4:00 p.m. Men’s Skeleton (Run 2)* Olympic Channel
5:00 p.m. Four-Man Bobsled (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
Monday 12:30 a.m. Four-man Bobsled (Run 2) NBCSN

*Same-day delay

FENCING GRAND PRIX — Cairo, Egypt; Torino, Italy

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Friday 6:00 a.m.  From Torino, Italy* Olympic Channel
Sunday 8:40 a.m. From Cairo, Egypt OlympicChannel.com

*Pre-recorded

FREESTYLE SKIING WORLD CUP — Tazawako, Japan; Sunny Valley, Russia; Minsk, Belarus

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Friday 11:30 p.m. Moguls Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
Saturday 3:00 a.m. Ski Cross OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
11:00 a.m. Aerials OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
3:00 p.m. Aerials* Olympic Channel
11:30 p.m. Dual Moguls Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
Sunday 3:00 a.m. Ski Cross OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold

*Same-day delay

GYMNASTICS WORLD CUP — Melbourne, Australia

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 2:00 a.m. Apparatus Finals (Day 1) OlympicChannel.com
9:00 p.m. Apparatus Finals (Day 1)* Olympic Channel
11:00 p.m. Apparatus Finals (Day 2) OlympicChannel.com
Sunday 9:00 p.m. Apparatus Finals (Day 2)* Olympic Channel

*Same-day delay

LUGE WORLD CUP — Sochi, Russia

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 2:30 a.m. Doubles (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
3:50 a.m. Doubles (Run 2) OlympicChannel.com
5:55 a.m. Women’s Singles (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
7:20 a.m. Women’s Singles (Run 2) OlympicChannel.com
1:30 p.m. Doubles (Run 2)* Olympic Channel
7:00 p.m. Women’s Singles (Run 2)* Olympic Channel
Sunday 1:40 a.m. Men’s Singles (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
3:15 a.m. Men’s Singles (Run 2) OlympicChannel.com
5:00 a.m. Sprints OlympicChannel.com
7:30 a.m. Team Relay OlympicChannel.com
7:00 p.m. Men’s Singles (Run 2)* Olympic Channel

*Same-day delay

WORLD NORDIC SKIING CHAMPIONSHIPS — Seefeld, Austria

 

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Thursday 8:30 a.m. Cross-Country: M & W Sprint Finals Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
11:30 p.m. Cross-Country: M & W Sprint Finals* NBCSN
Friday 4:30 a.m. Nordic combined: LH Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
10:00 a.m. Nordic combined: Indiv. 10km Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
10:15 a.m. Nordic combined: Indiv. 10km NBC Sports Gold
Saturday 5:00 a.m. Cross-Country: Women’s 15km Skiathlon OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
6:30 a.m. Cross-Country: Men’s 30km Skiathlon OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
8:30 a.m. Cross-Country: Women’s 15km Skiathlon* Olympic Channel
8:30 a.m. Ski Jumping: Men’s LH Final OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
9:30 a.m. Cross-Country: Men’s 30km Skiathlon* Olympic Channel
10:30 a.m. Ski Jumping: Men’s LH Final* Olympic Channel
Sunday 4:30 a.m. Nordic Combined: Team LH OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
5:30 a.m. Cross-Country: M & W Team Sprint Final OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
7:30 a.m. Nordic Combined: Team Sprint OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
8:45 a.m. Ski jumping: Men’s LH Team Final* OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
9:30 a.m. Nordic Combined: Team LH* Olympic Channel
10:30 a.m. Cross-Country: M&W Team Sprint Finals* Olympic Channel
2 p.m. Nordic Combined: Team Sprint* Olympic Channel
3 p.m. Ski Jumping: Men’s LH Team Final Olympic Channel
11:30 p.m. Cross-Country: Women’s Team Sprint Final* NBCSN

*Same-day delay

WORLD PARA NORDIC SKIING CHAMPIONSHIPS

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Thursday 1:00 p.m. Biathlon: Individual OlympicChannel.com
Saturday 1:00 p.m. Cross-Country Skiing: Relays OlympicChannel.com
Sunday 1:00 p.m. Cross-Country Skiing: Long Distance OlympicChannel.com

SNOWBOARDING WORLD CUP — Secret Garden, China

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 1:00 a.m. Parallel Giant Slalom OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
Sunday 1:00 a.m. Parallel Slalom OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold

WORLD SPRINT SPEED SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS — Heerenveen, Netherlands

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 9:00 a.m. Day 1 NBC Sports Gold
8:00 p.m. Day 1* Olympic Channel
Sunday 9:00 a.m. Day 2 NBC Sports Gold
8:00 p.m. Day 2* Olympic Channel

*Same-day delay

USA TRACK & FIELD INDOOR CHAMPIONSHIPS — New York City, New York

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 6:30 p.m. Day 2 NBCSN NBCSN
Sunday 4:00 p.m. Day 3 NBCSN NBCSN

Shiffrin wins city event, locks up World Cup slalom title

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STOCKHOLM — Mikaela Shiffrin wrapped up the season-long slalom World Cup title Tuesday, three days after winning her record fourth straight world title in the discipline. And she matched yet another record in the process.

Shiffrin won a parallel city event, defeating Christina Geiger of Germany in both runs to win the final by 0.27 seconds.

The victory gave the American two-time overall champion an insurmountable 203-point lead in the season standings with two races remaining. Her closest challenger, Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, was beaten by Geiger in the quarterfinals.

“Each run I was pretty good but not always the fastest,” Shiffrin said. “But I was consistent and for tonight, that was enough. It was really fun, actually.”

It was Shiffrin’s 57th career win and 14th of the season, matching the record for most World Cup victories in a single campaign, set by Swiss great Vreni Schneider in the 1990s.

Ramon Zenhaeusern of Switzerland won the men’s event, beating Olympic champion Andre Myhrer of Sweden in the final.

Marcel Hirscher lost in the quarterfinals but the Austrian seven-time overall champion gained enough World Cup points to lock up the slalom season title.

Both Shiffrin and Hirscher have won the crystal globe for best slalom skier six times in the past seven seasons. They both missed the title in 2016, when Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter and Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen finished top of the rankings.

Beaten by Vlhova in a similar event in Oslo on New Year’s Day, this time Shiffrin took the win, but she had to overcome a tough fight with Anna Swenn Larsson in the semifinal.

Cheered by her Swedish home crowd, Larsson won the first run by 0.09 seconds, but Shiffrin edged her by 0.10 in the second run to progress with the smallest margin possible.

In the final, Shiffrin was faster than Geiger twice as the German settled for her career best result and first World Cup podium in eight years.

Shiffrin triumphed despite still suffering from the cold she also had to deal with at the worlds in Are last week.

“I skied as well as I could. Even if I was healthy, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do better. Now I have some time to really recover,” she said.

Shiffrin will sit out races in Crans Montana this weekend and Sochi next week, before returning to the circuit on March 8-9 for technical events in Spindleruv Mlyn in Czech Republic, the resort where she had her World Cup debut in 2011 at age 15.

In the men’s event, Zenhaeusern beat Hirscher in the quarterfinal on his way to his second career victory, after also winning here last year.

Hirscher still ended up winning the season title as his two main rivals, Clement Noel and Kristoffersen, had gone out in the opening round.

“I am very happy. Winning the title today was one of the reasons for my start here,” said Hirscher, who successfully defended his world title in the discipline just two days earlier.

Noel, who won the World Cup slaloms in Wengen and Kitzbuehel last month, looked like defeating Manfred Moelgg of Italy but the Frenchman was disqualified for straddling the final gate.

And Kristoffersen, beaten by Norwegian teammate Sebastian Foss-Solevaag, has failed to go beyond the opening round of all six city events he has competed in.

The next men’s World Cup races are in Bansko, Bulgaria, from Friday through Sunday.

___

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