Jason Brown: ‘I kill it in a different way’

U.S. Figure Skating Championships
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Anyone who watched Jason Brown’s “Sinnerman” short program at the 2021 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Las Vegas on Saturday knows how mesmerizing figure skating can be, when a gifted skater teams up with a talented choreographer (in this case, Rohene Ward) who selects just the right material.

They also know how unforgiving the scoring system is, for while Brown’s performance was clean and packed with finesse, he sits a distant third in the standings, well behind Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou, who also had superb outings.

The reason is simple: Brown didn’t do a quadruple jump, while his younger competitors each did two. The 26-year-old skater gave up more than 10 points in base value technical points, something nearly impossible to overcome, no matter how brilliant a performance Brown may deliver.

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It’s the crack in the 2015 U.S. champion’s armor that’s kept him from winning a second U.S. title, gaining a world medal, qualifying for a second Olympic team. And although the skater is famed for his warm, cheerful nature, it almost prompted him to quit the sport.

“I think, in 2018, I had a pretty harsh breaking point,” said Brown, who placed sixth at the U.S. Championships that Olympic season. “I really didn’t see a future for me in this sport, unless I could do quads.”

What extended Brown’s career was his move from Colorado to Toronto, and coaches Tracy Wilson and Brian Orser, in May 2018. A fresh perspective, combined with the duo’s technical expertise, gave his career a second life.

“I think there was a part of me that knew I had more to give,” he said. “I knew that I was still developing and knew I was still growing as a person and as an athlete.”

Here are more of Brown’s thoughts on his place in a sport dominated by quadruple jumpers.

How did your move to Toronto salvage your skating career, after the 2017-2018 season?

It’s what kept me going. I knew I had to go through some type of a change. And Tracy and Brian really nurtured both sides of me. They’ve helped me technically; they’ve helped me grow artistically. They’ve never for a second made me feel less than anything. They’ve always just pushed me to be better and always saw what could be and how great I’m still becoming.

Jason, when we talked a while back, you said that at first you weren’t sold on your free skate music (Richard Rodgers’ “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue”). How have your feelings developed?

[The program] has definitely gone through a lot of phases, as far as the character that I’m playing and finding an attitude or a suaveness that I really enjoy portraying. I think it’s developed really nicely. And I definitely love the program.

It took some time, but I think that Tracy and [choreographer] David [Wilson] did a really great job of trying to push me artistically, but then also blending that with something that I can connect to within the program. It feels special to me. Hopefully, the audience and the judges feel the same way.

We haven’t seen the program since September, when you did it for U.S. Figure Skating’s ISP Points Challenge. Any substantial changes since then?

I don’t know if I can use the words ‘substantial changes,’ but definitely the layout is fairly different. It was really just Tracy and I, and Brian and David and our whole team, just messing around with the program and adapting it. So yeah, there are changes in the patterns, but the concept of the program and the overall feel is fairly similar. But, hopefully, when I perform it here, it will look much more seasoned.

And the last time we talked, you planned to include a quadruple toe loop in the program.

Yes, one is planned.

Are you happy with that, or are you afraid it might sap your energy from the overall performance?

I think there is always that balance of risk versus reward. I never, ever want to sacrifice the performance. That’s why I fell in love with the sport. It was always because of the performance.

And I’ve been in situations where I’ve tried to push myself technically in ways that definitely, as you just said, sap performance at times. So, I wish I could be that person that can do multiple quads and just kill it out there. I kill it in a different way, but I’m still obviously pushing my technical content as well, especially leading into the Olympic year. At the same time, I’m trying to find that balance where I don’t lose the integrity of the programs and the spark that makes my skating so special.

It fascinates me that you said, ‘kill it in a different way.’

I think ‘killing it’ comes down to the performance. It comes down to the quality. It comes down to the speed with which I cross the ice, and the speed at which I spin, and the positions in the air. [It extends] even to the point of the variety of the type of programs I skate, and the performances and the characters that I play when I’m on the ice. I think that I love that I can show these different sides of me when I’m out on the ice and I’m performing, and I can hopefully give people the chance to just sit back and enjoy the pure art of the sport.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

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Mikaela Shiffrin heads to world championships with medal records in sight

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Before Mikaela Shiffrin can hold the World Cup wins record, she can become the most decorated Alpine skier in modern world championships history.

Shiffrin takes a respite from World Cup pursuits for the biennial world championships in France. She is expected to race at least four times, beginning with Monday’s combined.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup victories in 23 starts this season, her best since her record 17-win 2018-19 campaign, but world championships do not count toward the World Cup.

Shiffrin remains one career victory behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record 86 World Cup wins until at least her next World Cup start in March.

Shiffrin has been more successful at worlds than at the Olympics and even on the World Cup. She has 11 medals in 13 world championships races dating to her 2013 debut, including making the podium in each of her last 10 events.

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She enters worlds one shy of the modern, post-World War II individual records for total medals (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt won 12) and gold medals (Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson won seven).

Worlds take place exactly one year after Shiffrin missed the medals in all of her Olympic races, but that’s not motivating her.

“If I learned anything last year, it’s that these big events, they can go amazing, and they can go terrible, and you’re going to survive no matter what,” she said after her most recent World Cup last Sunday. “So I kind of don’t care.”

Shiffrin ranks No. 1 in the world this season in the giant slalom (Feb. 16 at worlds) and slalom (Feb. 18).

This year’s combined is one run of super-G coupled with one run of slalom (rather than one downhill and one slalom), which also plays to her strengths. She won that event, with that format, at the last worlds in 2021. The combined isn’t contested on the World Cup, so it’s harder to project favorites.

Shiffrin is also a medal contender in the super-G (Feb. 8), despite starting just two of five World Cup super-Gs this season (winning one of them).

She is not planning to race the downhill (Feb. 11), which she often skips on the World Cup and has never contested at a worlds. Nor is she expected for the individual parallel (Feb. 15), a discipline she hasn’t raced in three years in part due to the strain it puts on her back with the format being several runs for the medalists.

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Lucas Braathen, world’s top male slalom skier, in doubt for world championships

Lucas Braathen
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Norway’s Lucas Braathen, the world’s top male slalom skier this season, is doubtful to compete in the world championships slalom on Feb. 19 after appendix surgery on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tough couple of days fighting after surprisingly finding out about quite an intense infection on my appendix,” Braathen, a 22-year-old soccer convert with a Brazilian mom, posted on social media. “I’ve been through surgery and I’m blessed that it went successfully.”

The Norway Alpine skiing team doctor said Braathen’s recovery will take a few weeks, but there is a small possibility he can make it back for the world championships slalom, which is on the final day of the two-week competition.

Braathen has two slalom wins and one giant slalom win this World Cup season. He will miss Saturday’s slalom in Chamonix, France, the last race before worlds. Countryman Henrik Kristoffersen and Swiss Daniel Yule can overtake him atop the World Cup slalom standings in Chamonix.

Braathen entered last year’s Olympics as the World Cup slalom leader and skied out in the first run at the Games.

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