AP

Jason Brown makes special season debut at Skate America after concussion setback

Leave a comment

LAS VEGAS — When Jason Brown and his coach, Tracy Wilson, talk about the concussion that kept the skater out of Nebelhorn Trophy in Obertsdorf, Germany last month, they say the same thing: “It could have been much, much worse.”

In late August, Brown traveled from his training home in Toronto to Irvine, California for U.S. Figure Skating’s Champs Camp. During his ride from the airport, Brown and Wilson say, the vehicle transporting him was involved in a T-bone collision.

“The airbags went off, and he was wearing a seat belt, God bless him,” Wilson said.

“If there’s a bright side, it’s that it happened at Champs Camp,” Brown said. “I had the U.S. team doctors. I followed concussion and whiplash protocol.”

Still, the accident cost the 2015 U.S. champion and 2014 Olympic team bronze medalist the chance to gain feedback on his programs, something he calls “more than a little disappointing.” It also cost him the opportunity of a critique from U.S. Figure Skating officials at Champs Camp.

“I was able to stay on the ice, but I could not spin, and jumps were hit and miss,” Brown said. “I couldn’t really run programs. It’s been only the last 10 days I could do run-throughs.”

“The issue became adding things in the program, without him having a setback,” Wilson said. “The last hurdle was being able to get the spins into the program. Right before Germany, the week before he was to leave, we put spins in the program. He did them, but felt sick the rest of the day. He was up and down, but now everything is good.”

Considering the circumstances, Brown cannot be too disappointed about in the 83.45 points he earned at Skate America on Friday for his “I Can’t Go On Without You” short program, choreographed by Rohene Ward.

The U.S. bronze medalist popped his triple Axel into a single, but the rest of the program was superb. He placed fourth.

“I would say he’s 100% physically, but he’s missed a lot of training,” Wilson, who trains Brown with Brian Orser, said. “It’s still early in the season. Quads are going really well in practice, the Axel is beautiful. It’s now getting him out there in competition. We always love to have a competition before Grand Prix season but we don’t, so work with it.”

And so in Las Vegas on Saturday, Brown will do what he had hoped to do in Germany: debut his free skate to music from Schindler’s List, choreographed by David Wilson.

It’s a program that’s been many years in the making.

“My background, obviously, is Jewish, and the story is so touching,” Brown said. “I grew up learning about the Holocaust and about Oskar Schindler and the stories. I always wanted to skate to it, but it has to be when I’m at the level, maturity-wise, that I’m really ready to skate to it.”

Other skaters – Julia Lipnitskaia and Joshua Farris come to mind – did justice to the theme as teenagers. But Brown, now 24, wanted to wait.

“People’s performances to it are unbelievable; I remember when Josh Farris skated to it and I was in awe,” he said. “He was outstanding, and he was younger, so I think it depends on the person.

“There is a sense of simplistic maturity that needs to be developed before you skate to something and really grasp what you are skating to, and for me, it took until now to say, ‘I am ready.’”

MORE: How to watch Skate America

There was another hurdle. Brown is known for interpreting little-used music, and Schindler’s List doesn’t fit that bill. But when he approached David Wilson with the idea, the choreographer was immediately on board.

“We were brainstorming a bunch of pieces and listening to soundtracks, and I said, ‘I don’t know if you want to run with this,’” Brown recalled. “I told him, ‘I want to put my own take on it and see what I can bring to life.’ And he didn’t hesitate.”

While Brown doesn’t intend for his program to be a history lesson, he hopes it will inspire fans to reflect on the events depicted in the 1993 film, which won the Academy Award for best picture.

“I think as performers a part of our job is to teach and to get people engaged in the story you’re trying to tell on the ice,” he said. “The point is to have the passion and intensity with I skate to it and get the story across.”

A quadruple jump will likely not figure into Brown’s free skate here at Skate America, although Tracy Wilson says he is consistently landing the quad Salchow in practices in Toronto.

“What happened is, our training got severely set back,” Wilson explained. “The salchow is beautiful. It’s an easy jump when he’s connecting, so it’s right there. The (quad) toe is coming.”

Brown is the first to admit that a quad has been in the works for many seasons. He has never landed a fully clean four-revolution jump in competition; his superior skating skills, spins and showmanship have kept him competitive during skating’s technical revolution. But he believes the breakthrough will come.

“It’s one of those things where I know I’m capable,” he said. “It’s a mix of its frustrating, yet it continues to drive me forward.

“When I first moved to Toronto [in May 2018], we kind of focused in on the Salchow, rather than the toe. Because I had not worked on it that much, [my coaches] had an easier time adapting me to it. It’s in the free in the future, but here, I’m trying to get a handle on the program.”

Tracy Wilson, too, thinks it will come in time – hopefully, this season.

“You have to be true to your skater,” she said. “What Brian and I always try to do, is work to the individual. If you look back to the Yuzu (Hanyu) and Javi (Fernandez) days, what they wanted and needed to do was totally different. Jason is equally special in what he has to offer the sport. He wants the quads in there in order to control his destiny.”

MORE: Nathan Chen hopes to hip hop his way to Skate America crown

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Check out a free trial of the Figure Skating Pass during Skate America from Oct. 18-20. 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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Bryan brothers to retire at 2020 U.S. Open, don’t plan on Olympics

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Bob and Mike Bryan said they will retire after the 2020 U.S. Open, ending a tennis career that’s included a men’s record 16 Grand Slam doubles titles together.

They also don’t plan to play at the Tokyo Olympics, their manager later said in an email.

The twins are 41 years old, having spent more than half their lives as professionals.

“A part of us, feels like, is dying,” Bob Bryan said on Tennis Channel. “But we’re really clear about this decision. It’s going to be great to have a finish line.”

Mike said that in 2020 they will play all the events they “really love,” including all four Grand Slams and American tournaments. The Olympics weren’t mentioned.

Rather, they will see how they’re feeling midway through the year, they said on the Tennis.com podcast.

The Bryans earned doubles gold at the 2012 London Games but withdrew from the Rio Olympics six days before the Opening Ceremony. They cited making their family’s health a “top priority” and later said Zika virus concerns were “a very small part of” the decision.

The Bryans own 118 titles overall but nearly ended their partnership after Bob underwent hip surgery a year ago. He rejoined Mike this season, reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals and winning two ATP doubles titles.

MORE: Simona Halep, Nadia Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
Getty Images
Leave a comment

When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

MORE: Simona Halep, Nadia Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!