Ice Network

Brown vaults into first with personal-best short

Farris lands in surprising second place; Abbott right behind in third
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Jason Brown was electrifying in his "Juke" short program, landing all his jumps cleanly and skating with a verve few could match. The reigning U.S. silver medalist sits in first with 93.36 points. -Jay Adeff

Leading up to the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, coach Kori Ade came up with a challenge for her pupil, Jason Brown. He had to produce at least 40 clean programs -- short program or free skate -- before he arrived in Greensboro.

There would be no excuses. Not one under-rotation. Not one hand touching the ice.

Only squeaky clean would do.

And every time Brown, or anyone else training with him at the Monument Ice Rink in Colorado Springs, was successful in doing a clean run-through, the skater would proceed to yell, "clean program," and hit the hockey buzzer.

In all, Ade said Brown hit the buzzer 43 times since Dec. 12.

"The buzzer started to become more and more frequent in the rink," Ade said. "Ah, the sweet sound of that hockey horn became, like Pavlov's dog. Everyone wanted to hit the buzzer and everyone in the rink would stop what they were doing and cheer when it sounded."

When he returns to Colorado, Brown can hit that buzzer at least one more time as he produced a clean short program to score a whopping 93.36 points -- a personal best -- at the most important event of his season so far. It puts him in the lead entering the free skate Sunday. Joshua Farris finds himself surprisingly in second with 90.40 points, and four-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott is in third with 89.93.

Brown skated his short program almost as perfectly as he could, landing a beautiful opening triple Axel , a triple flip-triple toe combination and a triple Lutz to go along with a well-executed step sequence that got the crowd in the Greensboro Coliseum clapping along. After performing so many clean programs in the run-up to the U.S. championships, Brown knew Friday night was not the time to blow it. 

"I told myself, 'I am not going to mess it up this time,'" Brown said.

Some will argue that his routine, performed to Little Walter's "Juke," was not as technically demanding as the programs that he undoubtedly will face at the world championships in March since it did not feature a quad. Brown, who said he has been practicing quads but is not ready to unleash them in a program, knows that. He's not worried about it, either, saying he will not do them until they are consistent.

"We've always had the same plan and the same strategy," Brown said.

Brown, who turned 20 last month, wasn't alone in lacking a quad in the short. Of the 20 entrants, only three men even attempted one. None of them landed a clean quad.

Max Aaron, who brushed his foot on the ice on his quad Salchow attempt, placed highest of the three to try a quad. The 2013 champion finds himself in fourth place (85.78) and plans to do two quads in his free skate. Adam Rippon, in fifth, came close to landing a quad Lutz, but it was under-rotated. Douglas Razzano fell on his quad toe and sits in 10th.

Abbott who has landed quads in competition in his career but has not attempted one this season, did not break from form in Greensboro. Instead, he opened with a triple flip-triple toe combination. He will not try a quad in the free skate.  

For Abbott, whose father died recently from complications of Parkinson's disease, returned to competition this season with the sole goal of winning a world medal. Winning a fifth U.S. title, Abbott said, would be "the cherry on top," but he is not losing sight of his ultimate goal.

"The goal for me this week was to skate solidly, be my best and move on to worlds," Abbott said. "I always have a tendency to be out of this stratosphere at nationals, so this time it's move-on, get through it and get to worlds.

"On Sunday, I just have to skate a complete program," he continued. "It's a great free program. It's very solid. I've been training it very well so I just have to take my time and pace myself. I can't try to swallow it all in one, big chunk. If I think about the program as a whole, it almost feels insurmountable. I just need to focus on one element at a time and check each off the list."

Nathan Chen had hoped to put out a quad in his senior debut but instead had to reconstruct his short program. Chen has been plagued with a sore left heel since last Wednesday. He said he took some painkillers Friday afternoon but apparently took too many and spent the day vomiting.

Even so, the 15-year-old two-time novice and junior national champion managed to land a triple flip-triple toe, triple Lutz and double Axel to place eighth.

"I'm obviously very disappointed that I wasn't able to do all the elements I planned," Chen said. "So considering everything, I'm OK with the results.

Farris is hoping he will be one of the skaters to land a quad in the free skate (quad toe), but he certainly did not need one to place in the top three in the short program.

His eloquently skated routine to "Give Me Love," by Ed Sheeran was one of the biggest surprises of the night, especially considering he has been battling an ankle injury all season. The injury forced him to withdraw from the Cup of China and then he placed 11th at the NHK Trophy.

The skate pleased him, but the score "shocked" him.

"I had no idea it was going to be that high," Farris said. ."I was expecting 80 [points] at the most, so to go 10 points higher … I feel so great right now."

His disastrous showing at the NHK Trophy proved to be what he needed to turn things around for the U.S. championships.

"He told me on the bus in Japan that this would never happen again," said Damon Allen, who coaches Farris in Colorado Springs. "Sometimes, you learn so much when things like that happen. It made him sit back and say, 'I want to fight for this.' He got home and he's been a new man ever since."

Of all the men in the field, Rippon attempted the most difficult technical element of the evening: the quad Lutz. It was a big jump and he came very close to the boards on the landing.

His training mate and close friend, Ashley Wagner, was in the arena watching.

When Wagner came to congratulate her pal backstage, she yelled, "Oh my God! I thought you were going to do a Midori Ito and jump right out of the rink!"

Ito flew out of the rink while performing a jump at the 1991 World Championships.

"I have super spy senses," Rippon said. "I have never met Midori Ito but I felt Midori's aura. I know she was present."

Carriere withdraws: Longtime U.S. championships competitor Stephen Carriere, who won the 2014 Ondrej Nepela Trophy, withdrew shortly before the short program with an ankle infection.

"I started feeling substantial pain from the infection in my right ankle Wednesday," Carriere said. "The medical team did a remarkable job decreasing the swelling, but the ankle just couldn't fit in the skate. I'm pretty disheartened. I was looking forward to put a stamp on the season, and I am sad that I don't get to do that."