Ice Network

TCC tidbits: Event a 'new beginning' for Brown

Former U.S. champion debuting new short; Wagner feels right at home
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Having sat out most of the season with a back injury, Jason Brown is viewing the 2016 KOSÉ Team Challenge Cup as a fresh start for himself. -Getty Images

SPOKANE, Wash. -- No one was so much as whispering the word "anticlimax."

But slotting the inaugural Team Challenge Cup on the skating calendar after the high-tension -- and high-reward -- World Figure Skating Championships is at least a little problematic for the participants tasked with making this concept work. And many acknowledged the challenges after practice sessions at Spokane Arena on Thursday.

"I would be lying to you if I said it was easy," said Ashley Wagner, whose silver-medal-winning performance was a highlight of the event in Boston three weeks ago. "It's close enough to [worlds] that we're still kind of in shape for our programs, but it's more mentally and emotionally the part where all of us are fried and tanked."

So they're all finding different sources of motivation to ensure that it's a meaningful competition and not just an odd-format exhibition.

"I think we always welcome [the chance] to compete," U.S. champion Adam Rippon said, "especially with different teams and heading into the Olympic Games with the team event."

For Gracie Gold, it's the "fun factor and definitely the newness factor" of the format that helps.

"I think everyone thought after worlds, 'Oh, I don't have it in me for one more competition,'" she said. "But there is the extremely generous prize money, which is obviously a big motivator."

The pot totals $617,000, and as motivation goes, that's not inconsiderable. But just as many of the competitors are jazzed about the team aspect.

"It's nice to do something where you're united," said Penny Coomes, who along with partner Nicholas Buckland stepped in for Team Europe when world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron withdrew.

"It's almost like the feeling when you go to the Olympics and you're there with different sports, and you share the limelight with skiers and the bobsleigh and whatever. It's a similar feeling to that but all within skating at the same time," Coomes said.

And when the arena lights come on, it's likely the fatigue of the season will fade away.

"Every hour," Gold said, "it seems like a better and better idea."

The Brown Identity

Maybe some of the Team Challenge Cup participants had to convince themselves to compete here, but that wasn't the case for Jason Brown: This is his season.

"To be able to be here, it feels more like a new beginning," said Brown, who has been sidelined since November with a back injury. "I'm looking at this kind of like my first event. It's also nice to be able to end the 2015-16 season knowing I was able to recover and compete."

The strained ligament in his back first knocked him out of the NHK Trophy in November, and then didn't allow him to compete at the U.S. championships for a chance to go to worlds. He is looking at this event as a fresh start -- to the point of debuting a new short program, to Secret Garden's "Appassionata."

"I'm not tailoring anything to make it easier," he said. "It's more about what I can handle and what I can do since coming back from an injury."

Silver linings

Wagner's silver medal at worlds was certainly a personal breakthrough, though she insists it hasn't made her look at herself any differently.

"I think it's changed how people look at me, for sure," she said. "I've always known that I'm this athlete and I'm so happy I finally had access to that athlete in competition.

"I've had people coming out of the woodwork to congratulate me. I think because I've been on the circuit for so long, people have seen all my ups and downs and understand what the medal means to me."

In Spokane, she'll be the closest thing to a local favorite -- and not because she has a bronze medal from the 2010 U.S. Championships that were held here. As part of a military family, she lived in both Tacoma and Vancouver, Washington, and some of her early novice titles were in Pacific Northwest events.

"Mom and dad are both from the Seattle area," she reported. "I have grandparents still out here, and aunt and her family -- really my whole family is out here, except mom and dad."

The replacements

The week could hardly have been more frantic for Coomes and Buckland, the British dance team that finished seventh in Boston.

On Monday, they were flying from London to New York City, looking to make their initial preparations for the 2016-17 season. They'd arranged a week of swing dance lessons with noted choreographer Robert Royston.

"But when we landed, my phone was lighting up with emails and texts saying, 'Call me now!'" Coomes said.

Injury in a show had forced Papadakis and Cizeron to withdraw from the Team Challenge Cup, and a short-notice replacement was needed.

"You know when everybody stands up to get their bags out of the top and get off the plane?" Buckland said. "That's when we had to make a decision. So that was good fun."

The next mission: finding a rink.

"We haven't done much skating since worlds, and we needed to get back on the ice," he said. "So this week has been action packed."