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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