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.”
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.”
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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