By Lois Elfman
When this season is done and figure skater Jason Brown begins to plan his choreography for the 2014-15 season, he might consider music from the musical The Most Happy Fella because nothing describes his enthusiasm and engaging personality more perfectly. Before that, there is this season to savor and Brown, the men’s silver medalist at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, is headed to the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
“To be named to the Olympic team is such an honor and privilege,” said Brown, 19, who was only eighth at the 2013 U.S. Championships. He’s unabashedly in awe that a video of his free skate has received millions on views on YouTube, saying that no previous video has had more than 8,000 viewers. He expects to be in “super energetic” mode when he first arrives in Sochi.
“After the Opening Ceremony, I’ll regain that focus and I’ll find my center and get more grounded,” Brown said. “Stay grounded and focused to do the task that I know I can do.”
Despite new demands on his time, he hasn’t missed any training sessions since returning to his training base at the Colorado Sports Center in Monument, Colorado—where he moved from his hometown of Highland Park, Illinois last summer. He’s rescheduled some on- and off-ice training, but he refuses to delete those essential preparations from his schedule.
“I try to stay very grounded and really in the moment. I have to think about [Olympics] as just another event. I finished the U.S. Championships and I’m just training for another event,” Brown said, who despite receiving a raucous standing ovation came home from Nationals with a list of things to work on before the Olympics.
He will not be adding a quadruple jump to either of his programs, instead keeping the choreography that brought the audience in Boston to its feet intact. NBC commentator Scott Hamilton called Brown “so special” noting, “He understands the power of the performance.”
Brown’s strengths are unquestionably choreography and flexibility.
“I was never flexible as a kid; I could barely touch my toes when I was 10,” said Brown. “I went to my first Junior Nationals when I was 11, and we saw other guys doing Biellmanns (a spin where the skater pulls his or her foot over the head) and we saw them doing extensions. My coach Kori [Ade] said, ‘You need to start working on your flexibility.’
“It’s something I do every night,” he added. “Because I was always a little, like one step, behind technically with my jumps (he only began landing the triple Axel consistently this year) it pushed me so much harder in all the other aspects of the sport—to make sure that I nailed the choreography, to make sure I worked on my spin positions. I work on spins an hour every single day. I work on skating skills and footwork for an hour every day.”
Brown’s choreographer, Rohene Ward, is very specific with each detail, making sure that even simple hand gestures aren’t overlooked in each competitive performance. Throughout this season audiences have responded enthusiastically to Brown’s skating—not just in the U.S., but also in Europe. Unquestionably, the music—especially the free skate to selections from Riverdance—brings the audience in.
“The most important thing for me when I compete is to perform to the audience,” said Brown. “I want to give them a show. When you go to a competition it’s kind of that feeling of you wanting to showcase your work. You work so extremely hard every single day, and to be in front of an audience, you want to give them your best work.
“The fact when they respond to the music and to your program, it’s something that they give me energy and I want to give them energy,” he continued. “It’s a great connection between the audience and me and wanting to perform for them. That’s really my main focus. Their support means so much to me.”
He’s aware of published reports pertaining to security threats in Sochi, but Brown believes the IOC and USOC will do their utmost for athlete safety. He intends to soak up the Olympic experience and compete to the best of his ability. Sixteen relatives, including his parents, will make the trip to Sochi.
“I want to gain as much experience as I can,” said Brown, indicating he anticipates competing for another eight years. He also has a curiosity about the world which he credits to having attended public high school and always having a life outside of skating.
At the start of this competitive season, Brown had little expectation of making the Olympic team, but with encouragement from his coach and choreographer as the year progressed he started to believe it more and more. Now he thinks anything is possible.
“I’m that crazy guy with long hair who loves to skate and loves to perform,” he said. “I know that there’s so much more I have to give.”
At the conclusion of his free skate in Boston, commentator Sandra Bezic noted, “Jason Brown owns this house.” Watch for more of the same in Sochi.