Ice Network

Brown still trying to figure out his place in the sport

Skater goes from being a long shot one year to the favorite the next
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Despite everything he has accomplished in the sport, Jason Brown still has several holes in his resume. -Getty Images

Jason Brown finds himself in a very rare spot in the skating world. 

On one hand, he has been to the Olympic Games, was part of the U.S. bronze-medal-winning team in Sochi and has a U.S. silver medal to his name.

On the other, he has never won a national title. He has yet to win a Grand Prix event, has not qualified for the Grand Prix Final and has not competed at the world championships.

He became a YouTube sensation last season, generating millions of views, yet he remains the down-to-earth guy who lives in an Olympic Training Center dorm.

He's one of the top contenders for the senior men's title this week at the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, but he has never attempted -- let alone landed -- a quad in competition. He didn't land a triple Axel at Skate America, but his silver-medal performance at that event marked the best finish for a U.S. man in the Grand Prix circuit this season.

Coach Kori Ade said her longtime pupil is in sort of a skating no-man's land, saying, "He keeps asking me, 'Where do I fit in?'"

"I think that's what's driving me right now," said Brown, who just exited his teenage years when he celebrated his 20th birthday last month. "It's such a juxtaposition. Sometimes I think, 'Oh, I'm so experienced,' and then I say to myself, 'What am I saying? I'm not experienced at all.'

"Really, how I feel is this is my second [season] competing as an international competitor. I have so much to learn and so much more to grow. This is my first year going to nationals as a medalist. The best I had done at nationals before was eighth place. How crazy is that?"

Crazy is right.

Consider this: Even though Brown was a virtual unknown when he arrived at in Boston last year, he wound up making the Olympic team and was in spitting distance of the top contenders in the Olympic men's competition after the short program. Brown was sixth after the short with 86.00 points, just 0.98 points out of third place.

That performance landed Brown in the final group, and he found himself warming up alongside eventual Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and three-time world champion Patrick Chan. Brown finished ninth in Sochi, but for a guy who had started the season without ever competing in a senior international event, it was no disappointment.

Then this season, Brown was neck and neck with Hanyu for the last spot in the Grand Prix Final. Hanyu finished fourth at the NHK Trophy, barely securing the final berth for Barcelona. Had Jeremy Abbott beaten Hanyu at NHK, Brown would have gone instead.

"It came down to such a small margin," said Brown, who was checking online results from Osaka in the midst of celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday. "Hopefully next year I will be not be an alternate."

Brown said he credits Ade and his parents, Marla and Steve, for keeping him grounded. The follow-up life after the Olympics was hectic, and Brown performed in some Stars on Ice shows. He came to Washington, D.C., and met President Obama as part of the U.S. Olympic team's trip to the White House in April, too.

All of which resulted in him not taking his usual two-week break in the summer. Sure, Brown said, there were times when he was a little more tired than usual, but that schedule crunch is not impacting him now.

"I feel so excited," Brown said. "I really don't feel drained."

Now that he has experienced the Olympics, Brown is all the more motivated to return to the Winter Games in 2018. When asked how many more times he wants to compete in the Olympics, he said -- in a way only the charismatic Brown could say it -- "50 million gazillion" more times.

His first order of business, however, is to win a national title. He comes to Greensboro not as an underdog but as one of the favorites.

When asked what it would mean to win his first U.S. senior gold medal, Brown said, "Oh my God, that just gave me total goosebumps everywhere. It would be unbelievable."

Brown's first trip to the U.S. championships as a senior came right here, in Greensboro, in 2011, which also was the first year after an Olympic Winter Games. His free program to Puccini's "Nessun Dorma" earned him a standing ovation, even though he finished ninth overall.

He is looking for a similar on-ice performance in his return trip to North Carolina this week.

Here are some others to watch in the men's event:

Max Aaron: The 2013 champion also has good memories of Greensboro, having won the junior title here in 2011. Aaron is one of the most successful U.S. skaters when it comes to landing quads, and he plans to attempt two in his free skate.

Coach Tom Zakrajsek said Aaron has been working on quad loops in practice and has two quad Salchows in the free skate.

Will he do a quad loop in practices in Greensboro?

"No," Zakrajsek said before pausing and adding, "Well, he might in an exhibition practice."

Known mostly for his jumping, Aaron has "not stayed stagnant" when it comes to his artistic development, Zakrajsek said.

Mark Pillay choreographed Aaron's short program to music from Footloose.

"I saw that Mark was so passionate about this, and so I was all in," Aaron said. "It has been a lot of fun, and I think people will see a new Max."

Richard Dornbush: The U.S. silver medalist when this event was last held in Greensboro, Dornbush hopes to land on the podium once again this year. Dornbush made a big splash last year in Boston, where he placed second after the short program but dropped to fifth overall after a disappointing free.

Dornbush won the Lombardia Trophy and finished third at the Cup of China, where he landed a quad toe in the free skate. He has the ability to land the quad, and hit quad-triples in practice Wednesday morning in Greensboro.

Dornbush said he has not made any substantial changes to his program but hopes his run-throughs here will be easier than the computational physics class he took last semester.

"Let me put it this way," Dornbush said of the course, one of three he took last semester, "The midterm and the final were both open book. That sounds like it would make it easier, but it didn't."

He had a big scare earlier this month when his mother was hospitalized. At first, doctors were unsure of what was causing her to suffer debilitating headaches, but later she tested positive for typhus, a disease caused by bacteria. His mother had initially planned to come to Greensboro to support Richard, but she was only recently released from the hospital and will not make the cross-country trip.

Nathan Chen: A newcomer to the senior ranks this year, Chen won the novice title in 2011 in Greensboro. Chen said he will attempt two quads in his free skate, and is the only man in U.S. history to win two novice titles and two junior crowns.

Jeremy Abbott: A two-time Olympian and four-time national titlist, Abbott comes to Greensboro as the most experienced and most accomplished of all of the men's competitors. But this has not been an easy season for him. After a strong showing at the world championships in March, Abbott decided against retiring from competitive skating. His international competitions this fall have not gone as well as he had hoped (he placed fifth at both of his Grand Prix events), and then he recently lost his father, Danny, who had suffered from Parkinson's disease. But the U.S. championships is a competition where Abbott often rises to the occasion.