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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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USOPC proposes more athletes on board as part of overhaul

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DENVER (AP) — The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee is proposing an increase in athlete representation on its board and a recasting of its mission statement to include the job of promoting athletes’ well-being.

These changes are part of a proposal, released Monday, to rewrite the USOPC bylaws.

The rewrite comes 20 days after federal lawmakers — looking for a shake-up in the wake of the sex-abuse scandal that has tainted the U.S. Olympic movement — proposed their own drastic overhaul of the law governing the USOPC.

The USOPC portrayed its proposals as merely a first step, and, indeed, the measures lack many of Congress’ more aggressive proposals.

But they would heed athletes’ calls for more representation, by increasing their makeup on the board from 20% to 33%.

They would also change the mission statement to read: “empower Team USA athletes to achieve sustained competitive excellence and well-being,” where previously the well-being part was not mentioned.

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MORE: Overhaul would give Congress power to fire USOPC board

Why a 62-year-old played at the world badminton championships

Mathew Fogarty
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Mathew Fogarty said badminton’s European elite made fun of him for playing professionally at age 59. That was three years ago. Fogarty still competes at the sport’s highest level, taking part in the world championships that began Monday in Basel, Switzerland.

Fogarty, who turns 63 on Oct. 30, is older than any U.S. Olympian in any sport since the St. Louis 1904 Games, according to the OlyMADMen.

“I play because I can, and I’m a doctor, and I think sports is a really important part of people’s health and fitness,” said Fogarty, who has played competitively since age 7, whose full-time job is a psychoanalyst and who is based in the Los Angeles area. “I’ll stop badminton when I can no longer qualify. There’s still opportunity, and I love the sport. I’m going to continue to do the best I can.”

He lost in the first round of mixed doubles at worlds on Monday. Fogarty and partner Isabel Zhong, a 27-year-old with an IMBD profile, saw their world championships end in 23 minutes, a 21-9, 21-10 loss to a Ukrainian pair.

That was more competitive than Fogarty’s last two worlds appearances — a 21-6, 21-4 loss with Zhong in 2018 and a 21-2, 21-4 loss with another partner in 2017. Fogarty’s only international match wins in the last two years came via walkover or the one time his singles opponent retired after three points, according to his World Badminton Federation profile. He won an international tournament as recently as 2011 and said his career-high mixed doubles world ranking was 32.

He and Zhong paired because they were part of the same Manhattan Beach Badminton Club, and she wanted to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Games, Fogarty said. Zhong did not respond to an interview request.

“I told her I didn’t know if we could do it, but we could try,” Fogarty said. “It’s extremely remote [chances] … slim to nil.”

The top mixed doubles team from the North and South American region is in line to qualify for the Olympics. The leaders in qualifying so far are Canadians ranked 19th in the world. Fogarty and Zhong, though they are the only U.S. mixed doubles team at worlds, are 67th in the world in Olympic qualifying and third among Americans.

The U.S. has never earned an Olympic medal in badminton, which debuted at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Mixed doubles was added starting at Atlanta 1996, but the U.S. has put just one mixed team into an Olympics, getting swept out of pool play in Rio.

Fogarty, who has never played at the Olympics, is able to play at worlds for a few reasons: he can fund his way to international events to accumulate ranking points; the U.S. is historically weak and has a lack of players with professional ambitions; mixed doubles is the least common of the Olympic disciplines.

“Matt takes it seriously,” said Dean Schoppe, a fellow 62-year-old who has known and played with Fogarty for nearly a half-century. Schoppe recently retired from pro badminton himself. “Matt still approaches the matches with the actual idea of winning,”

Schoppe called Fogarty the best American junior player of his generation in the late 1970s.

“Most badminton players retire at about 26 or 27 with their first catastrophic injury, which is usually a torn Achilles,” he said. “There are people who are born [to play], you see it in every sport. Magic Johnson, they have the peripheral vision. They have the balance. They have all the intangibles that other people have to try to learn and can’t.

“He has the gift. He can look at you peripherally and see that you’re leaning. … Fogarty can hold the serve and turn his shoulders and do crap that makes you fall over, and that infuriates.”

Mathew Fogarty
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Fogarty took breaks from the sport for medical school in the 1980s and ’90s. He returned in the late 1990s and kept playing deep into his 40s, 50s and now 60s in part, he said, to challenge corruption within the sport.

Fogarty had legal battles with USA Badminton. He said that past officials broke up his Olympic hopeful partnership with a teenager in men’s doubles to push others toward the 2000 Sydney Games.

“The last thing they wanted was a 42-year-old with an 18-year-old trying to make the Olympics,” Schoppe said.

USA Badminton recently had mass resignations among its board and top officials amid reports of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee threatening decertification.

USA Badminton’s new interim CEO, 1992 and 1996 Olympian Linda French, declined comment on Fogarty’s past issues with the organization because she was not formally involved at the time.

“We’re hopeful to move forward in a positive manner and wish all our athletes continued success,” French said.

Fogarty does not know how much longer he will travel the world, or even the U.S., to play competitively. A 43-year-old told him at a recent event that Fogarty was his inspiration to keep playing.

“The nature of sports is you can’t predict what it’s going to be,” Fogarty said.

Schoppe dismissed a question of whether it’s easier to play badminton at such a ripe age than other physically demanding sports.

“Imagine pulling out James Worthy and say, OK, James you are now starting for Golden State and you’re playing the Lakers tomorrow,” Schoppe said. “You cannot be old in badminton and do well in badminton. It’s nothing like baseball.

“We were the anomaly of anomalies to have success in our 40s. Nobody does.”

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