Jason Brown returns to figure skating, and a Toronto basement, with an ‘Impossible Dream’

Jason Brown
Matthew Stockman / Getty

In June, figure skater Jason Brown moved all his belongings out of the Toronto basement apartment where he had lived most of the last four years while training to make the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. He brought everything back to his family home north of Chicago, where nearly all those possessions – and his car – remain.

“No part of me thought I was coming back to Toronto,” Brown told me in a recent phone conversation.

Why would he have? Brown, 28 next month, had been in Toronto to work with coaches Tracy Wilson and Brian Orser on preparing for competitions. That lengthy phase of his skating career, with 12 years as a senior competitor and suitcases full of medals and achievements, seemed to be over with his solid sixth-place finish in the men’s singles event in China.

Brown had wearied of the blinkered perspective and single-minded focus necessary to be an elite competitive skater. He wanted to immerse himself more deeply in the other sides of skating, using his nonpareil artistry and body awareness to be a choreographer, to be a frequent and innovative show skater, to lay groundwork for the hope of one day producing his own show and having a skating camp.

None of those endeavors needed him to be based in Toronto.

And yet there he was in Toronto when we talked, back in the basement apartment with one suitcase of belongings, back training at the Cricket Club for his next competition, the U.S. Championships in late January, back with a frame of mind in which skating at the 2026 Winter Games is a far-off but not far-fetched thought.

It is a thought he will allow to cross his mind as long as the process to get there isn’t the same as it ever was, with the repetitiveness of that Talking Heads lyric.

“If I can do it on my own terms and it proves to be successful and healthy for me, it (2026) is totally a possibility,” said Brown, a two-time Olympian and 2015 national champion.

“I’m not going to keep coming in every day and drilling the technical again and again and again. I want to give myself the freedom to do it on my own terms and in my own time.”

To that end, he has spent some time this season choreographing a short program for Italian Olympian Daniel Grassl, European silver medalist last season.  And some time on the sidelines at Skate America, doing on-camera interviews for Team USA, a role he would like to expand upon.

He will go home to the Chicago suburbs for 10 days around Thanksgiving.  He will go from there to do two shows on the East Coast in December, go back to Toronto for two and one-half weeks, return to Chicago for Christmas week and then leave for Japan to do six shows after New Year’s, returning to Toronto three weeks before the men’s event begins at the 2023 U.S. Championships in San Jose.


Brown skipped the current Grand Prix season and does not plan to compete before nationals.

“If I’m going to do it my way, there is no point in rushing anything,” he said. “Before, it was always, ‘I need to be ready for this event right now.’ This season is about how we adapt to this new method of (intermittent) training and competing – not just me, but my coaches and my (physical) trainers.

“We haven’t done enough work yet to see how this translates. It could blow up in my face. It could be an utter disaster. But I don’t have it in me to keep doing it the way I had been.”

He had skated impeccably at the 2022 Olympics, getting personal-best scores for the short program, the free skate and the total, earning positive grades of execution on all 19 elements and finishing fewer than two points from fourth place. When it ended, in the Covid-cloistered Beijing environment, Brown had trouble processing what he called a “bizarre experience.”

“I remember finishing and thinking, `Is it over?  Is this how it ends?’” Brown said.

The idea of competing again took shape after he was invited to the Japan Open, a low-pressure, free-skate-only team event in early October that included active competitors and “retirees.” The chance to compete in it for the first time attracted him, so he put together a new program to “The Impossible Dream” with his longtime choreographer, Rohene Ward, and returned to Toronto to train for three and one-half weeks with Wilson.

“We thought, ‘Let’s use the Japan Open as a gauge,’” Brown said.  “Is competing something I still have a little bug to do? Or do I go there (to Japan) and say, ‘It was a great chapter, but this is not for me?'”

He skated respectably if not flawlessly at the Japan Open and realized he still had a love for competition, a feeling magnified by how good he felt physically. His regular off-ice sessions, both virtually and in person, with core movement specialist Lisa Schklar had kept him energetic and healthy while doing 50 shows between April and August. So on Nov. 2, he announced on Instagram that he would be competing at 2023 nationals.

“Coming back was not in my mind in the summer, but after finishing the shows I felt great,” he said. “I have more energy than ever.

“The team around me makes me love it even more and makes me want to push more and more – and my body is holding up.”

Brown, who has not landed a quadruple jump with a positive grade of execution in competition, was sure his quad attempt in practice the day before the Olympic free skate would be his last. Then he attempted one last week.

I asked Brown in a text message after our conversation whether he had landed that attempt. “Hahaha no,” he replied, followed by two laughing emojis, “but I never thought I’d have the drive to even want to try one!”

With reigning Olympic champion Nathan Chen and reigning world bronze medalist Vincent Zhou sitting out this season to concentrate on college, Brown should need no quads to be a strong medal contender at nationals in San Jose. His Japan Open free skate score is second best (easily) by a U.S. man so far this season, and the relatively lesser impact of quads in the short program has always worked to his benefit.

Brown said the absence of Chen and Zhou had no influence on his decision to compete at nationals. He actually had written to both, asking lightheartedly, “Do want to come back with me? Reunion?” Both told him they would be there to cheer him on – from the stands.

The @quadg0d, Ilia Malinin, will be a heavy favorite to win his first U.S. title after finishing second last year. Malinin, 18 in two weeks, lived up to his social media handle by becoming the first person to land a quadruple Axel in competition, first while winning the U.S. International Classic in September and again – with near perfect execution – while winning Skate America in October. His free skate and total scores lead the world this season.

At all his national meets from 2014 on, making the Olympic or world team was Brown’s objective. That will not be the case this time, even though Brown said he would be thrilled to compete at the 2023 World Championships if his skating earns one of the three U.S. men’s singles places.

“This isn’t about some unfinished business or an outcome or the need to do `X’ to prove myself,” Brown said. “It’s just out of love for the sport and the challenge of trying to better myself.

“There is nothing where I am saying, ‘I need this to feel finished.’ I am so proud of my career.”

Who wouldn’t be, with a record that includes: two Olympic appearances (and a team bronze medal); a U.S. title (and five other medals at nationals); four senior world championships appearances (with a fourth place in 2015); three junior world championships appearances (two medals), nine Grand Prix Series medals (one Grand Prix Final appearance); a Junior Grand Prix Final gold medal; and nine Challenger Series medals (six gold).

Brown at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. (Lintao Zhang / Getty)

Brown has earned a lot of that hardware since his self-proclaimed rock bottom at 2018 Nationals, also in San Jose, where he cost himself a spot on that year’s Olympic team. At the time, he thought that hearkened the end of his competitive career, but a total break from the sport for six weeks, followed by a coaching change and the move to Toronto, reinvigorated him.

“I am shocked even to have this conversation about going to San Jose five years later,” Brown said.

Over those years he has become one of the sport’s biggest spectator favorites, especially in Japan, where his fluency in the language has added to the fans’ admiration of the purity and expressiveness of his skating. From crossovers to spins to split jumps to spirals to footwork, his skating skills are consummate. He had attracted the world’s attention with an easy-to-appreciate, upbeat “Riverdance” program in 2014 and has kept it with his refined interpretation of subtler, more internalized programs.

His short program this season, to a piano piece called “Melancholy” by Alexey Kosenko, falls into the latter category. He and Ward choreographed it in 2020, but Brown never has used it in a live competition. The music is moody and reflective, allowing Brown introspection over his career.

He sees the “Impossible Dream” long program as a statement that the dream is impossible only if you stop believing in yourself.

Competing in a third Olympics, 12 years after the first, might seem like such a dream. Nationals could be a form of reality check – but not necessarily a decisive one.

“At this point, let’s see if I can show up at nationals after not competing and see how it goes,” Brown said. “Beyond that, it could be, ‘I’ll see you again at nationals in 2024’ or ‘I’ll do the Grand Prix next season or ask for one senior B event and then do nationals.’

“Let’s see how this all unfolds. I have never done it before with blinders off. Can I manage it? If so, there is a huge possibility that 2026 could turn into a goal.”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at every Winter Olympics since 1980, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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U.S. women’s rugby team qualifies for 2024 Paris Olympics as medal contender

Cheta Emba

The U.S. women’s rugby team qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics by clinching a top-four finish in this season’s World Series.

Since rugby was re-added to the Olympics in 2016, the U.S. men’s and women’s teams finished fifth, sixth, sixth and ninth at the Games.

The U.S. women are having their best season since 2018-19, finishing second or third in all five World Series stops so far and ranking behind only New Zealand and Australia, the winners of the first two Olympic women’s rugby sevens tournaments.

The U.S. also finished fourth at last September’s World Cup.

Three months after the Tokyo Games, Emilie Bydwell was announced as the new U.S. head coach, succeeding Olympic coach Chris Brown.

Soon after, Tokyo Olympic co-captain Abby Gustaitis was cut from the team.

Jaz Gray, who led the team in scoring last season and at the World Cup, missed the last three World Series stops after an injury.

The U.S. men are ranked ninth in this season’s World Series and will likely need to win either a North American Olympic qualifier this summer or a last-chance global qualifier in June 2024 to make it to Paris.

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Oscar Pistorius denied parole, hasn’t served enough time

Oscar Pistorius
File photo

Olympic and Paralympic runner Oscar Pistorius was denied parole Friday and will have to stay in prison for at least another year and four months after it was decided that he had not served the “minimum detention period” required to be released following his murder conviction for killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp 10 years ago.

The parole board ruled that Pistorius would only be able to apply again in August 2024, South Africa’s Department of Corrections said in a short, two-paragraph statement. It was released soon after a parole hearing at the Atteridgeville Correctional Centre prison where Pistorius is being held.

The board cited a new clarification on Pistorius’ sentence that was issued by South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal just three days before the hearing, according to the statement. Still, legal experts criticized authorities’ decision to go ahead with the hearing when Pistorius was not eligible.

Reeva Steenkamp’s parents, Barry and June, are “relieved” with the decision to keep Pistorius in prison but are not celebrating it, their lawyer told The Associated Press.

“They can’t celebrate because there are no winners in this situation. They lost a daughter and South Africa lost a hero,” lawyer Tania Koen said, referring to the dramatic fall from grace of Pistorius, once a world-famous and highly-admired athlete.

The decision and reasoning to deny parole was a surprise but there has been legal wrangling over when Pistorius should be eligible for parole because of the series of appeals in his case. He was initially convicted of culpable homicide, a charge comparable to manslaughter, in 2014 but the case went through a number of appeals before Pistorius was finally sentenced to 13 years and five months in prison for murder in 2017.

Serious offenders must serve at least half their sentence to be eligible for parole in South Africa. Pistorius’ lawyers had previously gone to court to argue that he was eligible because he had served the required portion if they also counted periods served in jail from late 2014 following his culpable homicide conviction.

The lawyer handling Pistorius’ parole application did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

June Steenkamp attended Pistorius’ hearing inside the prison complex to oppose his parole. The parents have said they still do not believe Pistorius’ account of their daughter’s killing and wanted him to stay in jail.

Pistorius, who is now 36, has always claimed he killed Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and law student, in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s Day 2013 after mistaking her for a dangerous intruder in his home. He shot four times with his licensed 9 mm pistol through a closed toilet cubicle door in his bathroom, where Steenkamp was, hitting her multiple times. Pistorius claimed he didn’t realize his girlfriend had got out of bed and gone to the bathroom.

The Steenkamps say they still think he is lying and killed her intentionally after a late-night argument.

Lawyer Koen had struck a more critical tone when addressing reporters outside the prison before the hearing, saying the Steenkamps believed Pistorius could not be considered to be rehabilitated “unless he comes clean” over the killing.

“He’s the killer of their daughter. For them, it’s a life sentence,” Koen said before the hearing.

June Steenkamp had sat grim-faced in the back seat of a car nearby while Koen spoke to reporters outside the prison gates ahead of the hearing. June Steenkamp and Koen were then driven into the prison in a Department of Corrections vehicle. June Steenkamp made her submission to the parole board in a separate room to Pistorius and did not come face-to-face with her daughter’s killer, Koen said.

Barry Steenkamp did not travel for the hearing because of poor health but a family friend read out a statement to the parole board on his behalf, the parents’ lawyer said.

Pistorius was once hailed as an inspirational figure for overcoming the adversity of his disability, before his murder trial and sensational downfall captivated the world.

Pistorius’s lower legs were amputated when he was a baby because of a congenital condition and he walks with prosthetics. He went on to become a double-amputee runner and multiple Paralympic champion who made history by competing against able-bodied athletes at the 2012 London Olympics, running on specially designed carbon-fiber blades.

Pistorius’ conviction eventually led to him being sent to the Kgosi Mampuru II maximum security prison, one of South Africa’s most notorious. He was moved to the Atteridgeville prison in 2016 because that facility is better suited to disabled prisoners.

There have only been glimpses of his life in prison, with reports claiming he had at one point grown a beard, gained weight and taken up smoking and was unrecognizable from the elite athlete he once was.

He has spent much of his time working in an area of the prison grounds where vegetables are grown, sometimes driving a tractor, and has reportedly been running bible classes for other inmates.

Pistorius’ father, Henke Pistorius, told the Pretoria News newspaper before the hearing that his family hoped he would be home soon.

“Deep down, we believe he will be home soon,” Henke Pistorius said, “but until the parole board has spoken the word, I don’t want to get my hopes up.”

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