Jason Brown
AP

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

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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.

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Brian Orser reveals Hanyu’s, Medvedeva’s, and Brown’s Grand Prix plans

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Over the past decade, the Toronto club where Brian Orser coached South Korea’s Yuna Kim to the 2010 Olympic title has become such an attraction for top figure skaters from around the globe that it could add a word to a name that already is a mouthful.

You could call it the Toronto International Cricket Skating and Curling Club.

But its reach now is limited by the deadly virus pandemic that has effectively frozen out the elite athletes from Japan, Russia, South Korea and Poland who train at the Cricket Club.

That situation won’t change quickly, even with the International Skating Union having announced Monday its plans to proceed with a live format for the international Grand Prix Series. This fall, it will become a series of six essentially domestic competitions scheduled to begin with Skate America Oct. 23-25 in Las Vegas.

If they take place.

“As soon as the skaters can come back, it will be full steam ahead… to where, we don’t know,” Orser said via telephone Wednesday.

Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu remains in Japan. Two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva is in Russia, four-time national champion Cha Jun-Hwan in South Korea, and two-time national champion Yekaterina Kurakova in Poland.

“We would like for them all to come back, but with the Canadian travel restrictions in place until at least Aug. 21, we can’t guarantee approval to get them in, and they would have a 14-day quarantine here if they do get in,” Tracy Wilson, who coaches with Orser, said via telephone Wednesday. “Right now, they are all training at home, and that’s OK.

“The situation is different for each one. The Japanese federation may need Yuzu to do the Grand Prix in Japan, and at this point he would face quarantine entering Canada and returning to Japan.

“For Yevgenia, as soon as she does the Russian test skates (scheduled for early September), we will re-evaluate her situation.”

Orser said he has been doing three video coaching sessions a week with Medvedeva, with whom he is in his third season as coach. Medvedeva, who left Russia for Canada after winning a silver medal at the 2018 Olympics, also is currently getting help from coach Elena Buyanova at the CSKA rink in Moscow.

“She (Medvedeva) looks way ahead of where she was at this point last year,” Orser said.

MORE: Looking back at Yuna Kim’s 10-year gold medal anniversary

Orser also has been having live remote sessions with Cha and Kurakova, and they are also sending videos to him. The only skater he has not seen is Hanyu.

“That’s normal when he is back in Japan,” Orser said. “I wasn’t expecting anything.”

How long Hanyu stays in Japan may depend on travel restrictions being loosened in both his homeland and Canada.

“I would like to get them all back, and they need to come back,” Orser said. “But facing a double quarantine is not in anyone’s best interest.”

Only two of the Cricket Club’s international skaters, 2014 Olympian Jason Brown of suburban Chicago and Yi Zhu of Los Angeles (who represents China), have come back to Toronto after leaving in late winter.

It took Brown two tries to get back across the border because of issues with the paperwork necessary for Canada to consider it essential he be allowed to enter. Orser and Wilson want to be sure any skaters coming from Asia and Europe are admitted on the first try.

From April to July, until skaters could get back on the ice in their various homelands, Brown led Thursday off-ice fitness classes via Zoom, with Medvedeva, Cha and Kurakova taking part.

“It was such a fun way to stay connected and still ‘train’ together while we were oceans apart,” Brown said in a Wednesday text message.

Orser and Wilson will recommend that all the foreign skaters training at the Cricket Club try to compete at Skate Canada, scheduled the last weekend of October at a 9,500-seat arena in Ottawa. Wilson thought if the event cannot have spectators, it might be moved to a smaller facility, possibly in a different city.

“All plans are in the early stages,” Skate Canada spokesperson Emma Bowie said in an email.

Grand Prix assignments have not yet been made.

Whether Brown picks Skate Canada over Skate America – if he gets a choice – could depend on when (and if) the Canadian government shortens quarantine periods for travelers from the United States.

“I know that we are in such unprecedented and uncertain times, so I love seeing the ISU being creative and trying to find a way to hold skating events this year,” Brown wrote. “While a lot can happen before October, if it’s safe to do so, I’ll be ready and eager to take part in any events that I can.”

The ISU said it wants to have the Grand Prix Final in Beijing, whether it takes place on its original dates (Dec. 10-13) or early in 2021. The competition is to be used as a test event of the skating venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

There are no details yet on qualification for the final, which usually is determined by points for placements at the six “regular season” events of the series, held in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan. The top six in each of the sport’s four disciplines make the Final.

In the past, the highest-ranked skaters could compete in up to two Grand Prix events, but ISU Vice-President Alexander Lakernik of Russia said in a Tuesday email that everyone would be limited to one event this year.

Because the Final presumably would have much more of an international field than the six other events, staging it is infinitely more problematic because of travel involved.

“We want what’s best for the sport,” Wilson said. “We have to get these kids out there doing programs, to get them on TV. [Note: An NBC spokesman said the network would, as planned, provide coverage of the Grand Prix, with details forthcoming.] In terms of competition, we’re up for anything.

“For me, though, with all the restrictions, there is no way they will be able to run a fair qualification for the Grand Prix Final. You’ve got to reinvent yourself and make it something else – if you are able to have it at all.”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

MORE: Nathan Chen is surprised, grateful and posing questions about figure skating’s restart

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Steven Nyman, top U.S. downhiller, faces another obstacle

Steven Nyman
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Steven Nyman, the active U.S. leader in World Cup downhill wins, tore his right Achilles in a training crash and had surgery earlier this week in Mt. Hood, Ore.

“I am moving forward,” was posted on Nyman’s social media. “I’ve been through this before and have full intention to comeback [sic] and compete through the next Olympics.”

Nyman raced in three Olympics and owns three World Cup downhill victories.

He turns 40 during the next Winter Games in Beijing in 2022, when he will be three and a half years older than any previous U.S. Olympic Alpine skier.

Nyman missed the PyeongChang Olympics after a pair of major injuries: blowing out his left knee in a January 2017 downhill race crash and tearing his right ACL in downhill training in January 2018. He also tore his left Achilles in 2011.

He raced the last two seasons with a best World Cup finish of fifth in Val Gardena, Italy, site of all of his World Cup wins in 2006, 2012 and 2014.

The U.S. men’s program is in the midst of its longest World Cup downhill victory and podium droughts this millennium — none since Travis Ganong‘s win in Garmish-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Jan. 27, 2017.

MORE: Alpine skiing World Cup plans earlier season start with fewer fans

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