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Costume drama: Jason Brown’s apparel odyssey

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DETROIT – When Jason Brown began packing Tuesday in Toronto for his trip to Detroit for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, he made a disconcerting discovery.

His competition costumes were nowhere to be found.

And Brown realized the only place he could have left them was the Panorama Hotel in Zagreb, Croatia, where he had stayed while winning the Golden Spin event that ended Dec. 8.

At their home in Highland Park, Illinois, Brown’s parents, Marla and Steve, immediately set out on a successful quest that seemed like an episode of “Mission Impossible,” crossing six time zones and 4,600 air miles from Detroit.

But just in case, the 2015 U.S. champion and 2014 Olympian bought a black turtleneck and black pants and put them in his bag as backup costumes.

And for most of week, despite his parents’ dogged efforts, they thought he probably would wind up skating in them.

Here’s the script for “The Croatian Caper,” as retold by Marla Brown:

*As soon as their son told his parents of what likely had happened, they called the Zagreb hotel. At first, hotel staff told them no one would be able to look until Wednesday. The Browns begged the hotel to check sooner, and a sympathetic employee agreed to have housekeeping do it.

*Lo and behold, after six weeks, the costumes were still in the hotel’s housekeeping department. Now the trick would be to get them to Detroit in less than four days.

*The hotel put the costumes in a box and arranged for a FedEx pickup Wednesday. By Thursday, when the Browns had yet to receive a tracking number, they called FedEx in Croatia, learned the package was still in Zagreb and that the next steps in the process could be delayed partly because the U.S. government shutdown could affect customs’ processing.

An apologetic Friday email from a representative of a logistics company that got involved told the Browns that FedEx wouldn’t be able to deliver the costumes until “at least Monday.”

Brown was to skate his short program Saturday at 2:24 p.m., with the final warmup beginning 14 minutes earlier. He was prepared to go out there in black pants and an unadorned black turtleneck.

“Now, we know this was just costumes,” Marla Brown said. “We weren’t dealing with something serious like an injury or sickness or a death in the family, but we still decided to try everything we could to get Jason his costumes. Steve and I were determined.”

*The costumes went from Croatia to Vienna to Paris. They still were in Paris on Friday night. By Saturday morning, they were in Memphis, Tenn., where FedEx is headquartered. From there, they had to be taken out of a container, sorted and shipped to Detroit. The Browns told FedEx they would drive anywhere in the area to pick them up if it would mean getting them more quickly.

*Saturday at 11 a.m., FedEx called the Browns to say their package was at a FedEx location near Detroit Metro Airport, 22 miles from Little Caesars Arena. They got the costumes to him at the arena around 12:30 p.m., when the men’s event already was underway.

“It all didn’t affect me,” Brown said. “As soon as I realized what I did, I had told Tracy (Wilson, his coach) about it, and she was so chill. She said, ‘Don’t even worry about the costume.’ That just put me at ease.”

Brown would skate in the planned costume of black pants and a black shirt highlighted by sparkling swirls of deep blue and silver. He finished second with a flawless, flowing, exquisite performance that led the judges to rain down top-level Grades of Execution scores on him.

Truth be told, Brown’s short program skating was so sparkling by itself that no one would have noticed if he had done it wearing the emperor’s new clothes.

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

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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Tommy Ford ends U.S. men’s World Cup drought at Beaver Creek

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Tommy Ford earned his first World Cup win at age 30 and ended the U.S. men’s longest victory and podium droughts in two decades.

Ford won the giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Sunday, the last North American race on tour this season. He prevailed by eight tenths of a second combining times over two runs.

“It doesn’t beat doing it here. I’ve been working hard,” Ford, in his 86th World Cup start dating to 2009, said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “No secret, just kept it simple and really trusted what I was doing.”

Norwegians Henrik Kristoffersen and Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen were second and third. American Ted Ligety, fourth after the opening run, finished 11th.

Full results are here.

Ford became the first U.S. man to win a World Cup since Travis Ganong took a downhill on Jan. 27, 2017. He also became the first U.S. male podium finisher since Ligety in January 2018. Both were the longest droughts for the program since the late 1990s.

Ford, a 2010 and 2018 Olympian who missed the 2014 Olympics due to a broken femur, had been working toward this moment.

He finished a World Cup career-high fourth at the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 27. Last season, the Oregon native and former Dartmouth student had a pair of fifths.

The men’s World Cup moves to Val d’Isere, France, next weekend for a giant slalom and slalom.

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MORE: 2019-20 Alpine skiing TV, live stream schedule

Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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