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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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”

Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

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One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“This wasn’t the skate that I wanted,” said Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen. The Virginia chalked up the flaws at least partially to putting more recent practice time into his short program, which he skated clean on Friday after errors in previous competitions.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

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