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Jason Brown gaining traction in Toronto, building base for quad jumps

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DETROIT – After his Friday morning practice, Jason Brown held court in the mixed zone.

The 24-year-old skater searched for words to describe how his relocation to Toronto last spring reinvigorated his career and why, suddenly, losing out on a 2018 Olympic berth didn’t hurt quite so much.

“It was kind of like my nightmare happened, and I survived,” he said. “I’m not afraid anymore.”

Two-time Olympian Mirai Nagasu – fourth overall in Vancouver in 2010, left off of the U.S. Olympic team in 2014, only to fight her way back in 2018 and win a team bronze medal – got right to the point.

“I don’t want to put words in your mouth,” said Nagasu, who has been killing it as an Ice Desk commentator and interviewer in Detroit, “but would you say it is almost a cathartic relief?”

Recognizing a fellow spirit, Brown exclaimed, “Yes! The sun has come up again in my life. I’m starting fresh. There is that building of a new base and building something different and going forward.”

Tracy Wilson, the skater’s primary coach at Toronto’s Cricket Skating and Curling Club, knows it hasn’t been easy for Brown to put his pride in his pocket, take her daily stroking classes, try new choreographic styles, tweak his technique. It led to inconsistent jumps and disappointing performances early this season, at the Skate Canada Autumn Classic and Skate Canada.

“He took a lot of hits, because it’s hard to make changes,” Wilson said. “But I think, if you look at his work ethic, his ability and also the skills he had already developed – his repertoire of moves, his vocabulary – all of that is pretty impressive. We were able to work and build on that, and to look at new things. He’s in it for the long haul, but everything is improving.”

Over the past two months or so, Brown has righted the ship. In November, he came away with a silver medal at Grand Prix France, where he performed a clean short program to win that portion of the event over Nathan Chen. A strong free skate, including two solid triple Axels, gained him a win at Golden Spin of Zagreb in early December.

Wilson, along with her Cricket Club associates Karen Preston, Lee Barkell and Brian Orser – who plays a supervising role – used some of the time between each event to make more tweaks to Brown’s technique. He arrived in Detroit, she said, in “really good form.”

MORE: Brian Orser provides updates on his students

So good, the skater landed a clean quadruple Salchow in Friday’s practice. If Brown hits the jump cleanly in his free skate on Sunday, it will mark a first in his competitive career.

“We’ve made minor adjustments, given him different ways to think about things,” Wilson said. “It’s a work in progress… Sometimes you get under pressure and it’s hard, you have a hybrid of old and new [technique] under stress. Gradually the consistency in practice is getting better and it’s a matter of time before it moves up in competition.”

Meanwhile, back in the mixed zone, Nagasu asked Brown another penetrating question: Was there ever a time when he pushed back against any of the changes his Toronto coaches wanted to make?

“That’s a really good question, a really great question,” Brown said. “What have I rebelled against? There are moments where I’ll speak up if I’ve gotten pushed too far, but not when it comes to technical changes.”

Still, Brown has also been open to Toronto-based choreographer David Wilson’s methods, which included leaving out many of the skaters’ longtime trademarks – spirals, falling leaves, split jumps – from early versions of his free skate to a Simon & Garfunkel medley.

“I learned the art of simplicity from the program,” Brown said.

Now, some of the Brown hallmarks are back. His program component scores in France in both programs were a point or two higher than Chen’s. A new wrinkle of the judging system, which enables judges to assign Grades of Execution of up to +5 for Brown’s superb spins and steps, may help give his career a second wind.

“I’m still exploring it,” he said of the judging change. “I go into an event and I never know how the score is going to be. But I really love the fact they are rewarding for quality. That’s valuable.”

A quad Salchow, with its 9.7-point base value, would also help raise Brown’s game here in Detroit and in the future. But in the lead-up to the U.S. Championships, he said patience was key.

“We have a quad salchow planned in the free,” he said. “That being said, we are not in any rush. It’s about getting the technique under it and building a strong base. But it is planned and I hope to do it.”

MORE: 3 questions with Jason Brown before U.S. Championships

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Federica Brignone passes Mikaela Shiffrin for World Cup overall lead

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Italian Federica Brignone passed an absent Mikaela Shiffrin for the World Cup overall standings lead by winning a combined in Switzerland on Sunday.

Brignone prevailed by .92 of a second adding times from super-G and slalom runs in Crans-Montana. Full results are here.

Brignone moved 73 points ahead of Shiffrin in the overall through 29 of 40 scheduled races. A race winner receives 100 points on a descending scale through the 30th-place finisher. The season runs through March 22.

Shiffrin, the three-time reigning World Cup overall champion, has not competed since the unexpected death of her father on Feb. 2. She has not announced if or when she will return this season.

Brignone, 29, is having a career season with five wins and 10 podiums across four disciplines.

Brignone’s best previous World Cup overall standings finish was fifth. She earned giant slalom medals at the 2018 Olympics (bronze) and 2011 World Championships (silver).

She could become Italy’s first female World Cup overall champion. The last Italian male winner was Alberto Tomba in 1995.

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves to La Thuile, Italy, for a super-G and a combined next Saturday and Sunday.

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MORE: Alpine skiing season TV schedule

Jade Carey on brink of becoming first gymnast to qualify for U.S. Olympic team

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The U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials aren’t until late June, but Jade Carey is in position to qualify for the Tokyo Games in March.

Carey, seeking an individual Olympic gymnastics spot outside of the team competition, earned the maximum points in a World Cup series that is one path to Olympic qualification.

Carey has three wins each on floor exercise and vault with two World Cups left in March. Carey will mathematically clinch an Olympic spot if no other gymnasts earn maximum points on one of the apparatuses to force a tiebreaker.

A gymnast’s top three finishes across the eight-stop series count in Olympic qualifying. If Carey finishes atop the floor or vault standings, she goes to the Olympics.

Carey picked up those third wins on floor and vault at the sixth World Cup in Melbourne, Australia, this weekend.

So far, no other gymnast has two wins on floor. One other gymnast can get to the maximum points on vault with one win between the last two stops (and others with two).

The one downside to qualifying this route: Carey would not be able to compete in the team competition at the Olympics. Those four spots will be determined at and after June’s trials in St. Louis, with Simone Biles likely grabbing one of them.

“I knew I would be giving up being on the team,” Carey said in October of going the World Cup route, “but I think, for me, it made sense to just go for it.”

Carey is a world medalist on vault and floor, but she doesn’t have the all-around credentials of Biles and some other U.S. gymnasts.

Olympic team event roster sizes were cut from five to four for Tokyo, putting a greater onus on all-around prowess given a team must put three gymnasts on each apparatus in the Olympic final.

The U.S. is the deepest country in women’s gymnastics, so the only truly safe pick to make the four-woman Olympic team event roster is Biles.

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