Ice Network

Brown holds off streaking Rippon to win U.S. crown

Farris nabs bronze medal; Aaron takes pewter; Abbott misses podium
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Jason Brown captured his first U.S. title in Greensboro, and he did it in record-setting fashion. Landing seven clean triple jumps in his 'Tristan and Iseult' free skate, the 20-year-old amassed a total score of 274.98, the highest ever at the U.S. championships. -Jay Adeff

Jason Brown, the charismatic skater with the sport's most famous ponytail, won his first U.S. title in dramatic style Sunday in Greensboro with 274.98 points, a new U.S. record for a total score.

Brown's free skate at the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships to Rodriguez Tristan et Iseult pushed the boundaries of his considerable performance skills, with its flair, flamboyant steps and choreographic highlights. It was a bit conservative technically: The 20-year-old skater was the only one of the top 10 finishers who did not try a quadruple jump, and he was a bit tentative on his second triple Axel, which was judged under-rotated. But his unique storytelling ability and connection to the audience cannot be denied.

"I trained so hard, I worked so hard -- I worked a lot of hours on my consistency," Brown said. "I was just checking off [the elements] on my list and performing to the audience and enjoying every second out there."

Kori Ade, who has coached Brown since he was 5 years old, thinks that her showman skater's finest attribute is consistency, grounded in endless hours on the ice at their rink in Monument, Colorado.

"For sure, his formula for success is about his hard work, his training and his investment," Ade said. "If you spent a day with him, you would realize he turns it on and off like a faucet."

"When he is on the ice, there is nothing that keeps him from being focused," she continued. "He says 'sorry' to little kids working on half flips if he gets in their way. And when he is in the lobby, he is fun and upbeat."

Brown and Ade have said repeatedly that the skater will not put a quadruple jump into his programs until the move is consistent in practice, and they gave no indication that it will happen in time for the 2015 World Figure Skating Championships, held in Shanghai in early March. But there are several things about the free skate Ade would like to improve.

"I would like, of course, for him to not put his toe down on the second [triple] Axel ... we have to figure that out," she said. "And just speed, power, a little bit more command."

Brown ended up on top, but it was a superb evening of skating, with lots of twists and turns along the way.

Adam Rippon made a spectacular rebound from a disappointing Grand Prix season, winning the free skate with an exquisitely musical program to a Liszt piano concerto that included a quad Lutz. Although the jump was downgraded by the technical panel, it set the tone for a fine technical display: two perfect triple Axels, the second in the latter half of the program; "Rippon" triple Lutz (hands over head) in combination with a triple toe; and a triple flip-loop-triple Salchow combination.

Rippon also earned six perfect 10s for his performance and choreography components, for a total of 187.77 points, a new U.S. record for a free skate. He ended with 272.48 points, just 2.50 less than Brown.

"I came into this week feeling I had been written off, and I really wanted to change that talk about me," Rippon, 25, said. "I wanted people to see me as a champion. I feel like a champion and I feel like a winner. I went for the quad Lutz and after that I just let it go. I will take this performance and improve upon it at the world championships."

A two-time world junior champion, Rippon won U.S. silver in 2012, but has never seemed to skate up to the potential he showed as a two-time world junior champion. His triple Axel, in particular, has been inconsistent over the years. The 25-year-old, who trains in Artesia, California, under Rafael Arutunian, thinks he has at last turned the corner.

"Where I am today started a year ago, telling Raf I didn't like competition and I didn't know what wanted to do," Rippon said. "Raf just said, 'Buddy, you need to it figure out.' Here I am today and I figured it out. I fought demons and battles. ... I wasn't half here anymore. I was fully invested."

Colorado Springs' Josh Farris won bronze with a spellbinding program to music from Schindler's List that opened with the event's finest triple Axel, followed by a quadruple toe loop with a step-out on the landing.

The 20-year-old didn't put another foot wrong, but his arithmetic went awry. After hitting a triple Axel-double toe and a triple flip-double toe, he tacked another double toe onto a triple Lutz. Since a skater is not permitted three double toes in a program, the Lutz combination earned no points. Still, Farris earned the event's highest program component scores (PCS), including four perfect 10s, and 177.58 points for his free skate. He ended with 268.98 points overall.

"I fought through that entire program," Farris said. "I was terrified. I was shaking. I was so nervous. I talked with (sports psychologist) Dr. Caroline Silby and found out I just needed to fight, and I fought as hard as I could. I think it paid off."

Had Farris simply landed a good triple Lutz, instead of a triple Lutz-double toe, he may have earned seven or eight points, enough to win the title. Asked whether he was disappointed, Farris was honest.

"To be honest, yes," Farris said. "Who wouldn't be? But this year didn't start out well at all, so I think this is still the beginning. It's the first year [of the] next (Olympic) quad. I'm kicking myself now, but it will keep me determined to improve."

Like Rippon, Farris had a difficult Grand Prix season. An ankle injury took him out of Cup of China, and dismal skates put him 11th at NHK Trophy.

"He was very injured, and I think that was a little dark cloud over his head," said Christy Krall, who coaches Farris with Damon Allen. "The cloud has disappeared and it's a blue sky for him. He can think clearly and move on from it. He has been [back] on the ice for seven weeks, so this guy has no miles."

Max Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, landed two quadruple Salchows, the second in combination with a triple toe, as well as two triple Axels and four other triples. But, on a night when skaters with far higher PCS skated clean or near-clean programs, he had to settle for fourth place and 259.19 points.

Four-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott skated an intensely moving and original program to Barber's "Adagio for Strings" and made a gutsy attempt at a quad toe loop that he did not land. His two triple Axels were among the best of the event, but he fell on the final jump of a triple flip-loop-triple Salchow sequence and placed fifth with 258.29 points. It was his lowest finish in nine trips to the senior men's event at the U.S. championships.

Abbott, who announced his retirement last season, only to change his mind after the 2014 World Championships, is not making any decisions on his future now.

"I'll go home and reevaluate life," the 29-year-old said. "We retooled my swing (biomechanics) this season and it's been so much for the better. I have been able to go through the season completely injury free. I felt more confident and stronger and much more consistent than I ever have before."