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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Chicago Marathon features Emily Sisson’s return, Conner Mantz’s debut, live on Peacock

Emily Sisson
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At Sunday’s Chicago Marathon, Emily Sisson makes her return, nearly three years after Olympic Trials disappointment. Conner Mantz makes one of the most anticipated U.S. men’s debuts in 26.2-mile racing.

It is not the norm, but an American will be one of the spotlight runners in both the men’s and women’s elite races at a major marathon. Peacock airs live coverage at 8 a.m. ET.

Sisson, 30, starts her first mass marathon since dropping out of the Olympic Trials on Feb. 29, 2020, her legs “destroyed” on the hilly Atlanta course where she started as arguably the favorite. She ran the virtual New York City Marathon later in 2020, but that was solo (and not in New York City). Her 2:38:00 isn’t recorded in her official results on her World Athletics bio.

Since, Sisson won the Olympic Trials 10,000m on the track and was the top American in Tokyo in 10th place. She moved back to the roads, winning national titles at 15km and the half marathon and breaking the American record in the latter.

Sisson vaulted into the elite group of U.S. female marathoners in 2019, when she clocked the second-fastest debut marathon in American history, a 2:23:08 on a windy day in London, where the early pace was slow.

At the time, it was the 12th-best U.S. performance all-time. In the last two years, Keira D’Amato, 37, and Sara Hall, 39, combined to run seven faster marathons. At Chicago, a flat course that produced a world record three years ago, Sisson can answer them and perhaps get close to D’Amato’s American record 2:19:12.

“I’m hoping sub-2:20,” coach Ray Treacy said, according to LetsRun.com. “With the [super] shoes and the training behind her, I would think that’s [worth] at least three minutes.”

It is less likely that Sisson can challenge for the win on Sunday given the presence of Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich, the 2019 World champion and defending champion in the Windy City. The 28-year-old mom is the fifth-fastest woman in history with a personal best of 2:17:08. And Ethiopian Ruti Aga, a podium finisher in Berlin, New York City and Tokyo with a best time of 2:18:34, though she has one marathon finish since the pandemic (a seventh place).

Like Sisson, Mantz has shown strong recent road racing form. The American men’s debut marathon record of 2:07:56 (Leonard Korir) is in play. If he can break that, Mantz will be among the five fastest U.S. marathoners in history.

Rarely has a U.S. male distance runner as accomplished as Mantz moved up to the marathon at such a young age (25). At BYU, he won NCAA cross-country titles in 2020 and 2021 and placed fifth in the Olympic Trials 10,000m, then turned pro and won the U.S. Half Marathon Championships last December.

“If everything goes as planned, I think sub-2:08 is realistic,” Mantz said in a Citius Mag video interview last month. “If everything goes perfect on the day, I think a sub-2:07, that’s a big stretch goal.”

The men’s field doesn’t have the singular star power of Chepngetich, but a large group of East Africans with personal bests around 2:05. The most notable: defending champion Seifu Tura of Ethiopia and 2021 Boston Marathon winner Benson Kipruto of Kenya.

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Alpine skiing to test new format for combined race

Alpine Skiing Combined
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Alpine skiing officials will test a new format for the combined event, a race that is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

French newspaper L’Equipe reported that the International Ski Federation (FIS) will test a new team format for the combined, which has been an individual event on the Olympic program since 1988. L’Equipe reported that a nation can use a different skier for the downhill and slalom in the new setup, quoting FIS secretary general Michel Vion.

For example, the U.S. could use Breezy Johnson in the downhill run and sub her out for Mikaela Shiffrin in the slalom run, should the format be adopted into senior competition.

The format will be tested at the world junior championships in January in St. Anton, Austria, according to the report.

In response to the report, a FIS spokesperson said, “Regarding the new format of the combined is correct, and our directors are working on the rules so for the moment the only thing we can confirm is that there will be this new format for the Alpine combined that has been proposed by the athletes’ commission.”

Some version of the combined event has been provisionally included on the 2026 Olympic program, with a final IOC decision on its place coming by April.

This will be the third consecutive World Cup season with no combined events. Instead, FIS has included more parallel races in recent years. The individual combined remains on the biennial world championships program.

L’Equipe also reported that the mixed team parallel event, which is being dropped from the Olympics, will also be dropped from the biennial world championships after this season.

“There is nothing definitive about that yet, but it is a project in the making,” a FIS spokesperson said in commenting on the report.

Vion said the mixed team event, which debuted at the Olympics in 2018, was not a hit at the Beijing Games and did not draw a strong audience, according to L’Equipe.

The World Cup season starts in two weeks with the traditional opening giant slaloms in Soelden, Austria.

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