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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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Breanna Stewart to miss entire WNBA season with Achilles injury

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Breanna Stewart, the world’s top female basketball player and one of the most dominant athletes of 2018, is expected to miss the entire upcoming WNBA season after rupturing an Achilles playing in Europe on Sunday, according to the Seattle Storm.

“The situation is still a shock to me,” was posted on Stewart’s social media. “I’m feeling every emotion possible at this point but just know that the bounce back will be real and I’ll be back better than ever.”

Stewart, 24, skyrocketed in this Olympic cycle.

The Storm’s franchise player went from playing the second-fewest minutes on the 2016 Olympic team as its youngest player to leading the U.S. per game in points (16.3) and minutes (27) at the 2018 World Championship tournament.

Stewart earned MVP honors at worlds, matching her WNBA season and Finals honors. She became the first player to earn all three MVPs in one year.

Stewart is still expected to be in play for the 2020 Olympic team, given the Storm expect her to make a full recovery by the start of the following WNBA season next spring.

Tamika Catchings made the 2008 Olympic team after tearing her right Achilles in September 2007.

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Caster Semenya leads Olympians in Time 100; streak hits 16 years

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An Olympian has made the Time 100 Most Influential list every year since its annual inception in 2004. South African runner Caster Semenya, soccer players Alex Morgan and Mo Salah and LeBron James kept the streak going in 2019.

It’s the fourth appearance for James (2005, 2013, 2017), extending his record for an athlete, and the first for Semenya, Morgan and Salah. Semenya made it in the “icons” category, while the other three are “titans.”

Two-time Olympic 400m hurdles champion Edwin Moses penned an essay about the two-time Olympic 800m champion Semenya, who is fighting a legal battle with the IAAF over a potential rule change limiting women’s testosterone levels in her events. If the rule goes into effect, Semenya’s dominance (three years undefeated at 800m) is expected to vanish.

“Caster Semenya has taught us that sex isn’t always binary, and caused us to question the justness of distributing societal benefits according to “male” and “female” classifications,” Moses wrote. “Ultimately, this incredibly difficult issue is a political one for sport to resolve. But however it is addressed, Semenya will have already made a singular historical contribution to our understanding of biological sex.”

Here are Olympians and Paralympians on past Time 100 lists, counting only athletes who competed in the Games before being listed:

2018 — Kevin Durant, Roger Federer, Chloe Kim, Adam Rippon
2017 — Simone Biles, LeBron James, Neymar
2016 — Usain BoltCaitlyn JennerKatie LedeckySania MirzaRonda Rousey
2015 — Abby Wambach
2014 — Cristiano Ronaldo, Serena Williams
2013 — LeBron James, Li Na, Lindsey Vonn
2012 — Novak DjokovicLionel MessiOscar Pistorius
2011 — Lionel Messi
2010 — Yuna KimSerena Williams
2009 — Rafael Nadal
2008 — Andre Agassi, Lance Armstrong, Oscar Pistorius
2007 — Roger FedererChien Ming-Wang
2006 — Joey CheekSteve Nash
2005 — LeBron James
2004 — Lance Armstrong, Paula Radcliffe, Yao Ming
2000 (20th Century) — Muhammad Ali

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