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.
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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