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Late-bloomer Rippon hopes to revive quad toe

Brown shows progress with quad; Aaron wants to get crowd involved
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Both of Adam Rippon's programs this season are set to contemporary music with lyrics. -Getty Images

On the cusp of his ninth international senior season, Adam Rippon thinks his best is yet to come.

"A few years ago, I didn't even know if I wanted to compete, and now I'm skating better than I've ever skated," Rippon said at Champs Camp in Colorado Springs early this week. "I have so much experience and I know so much now that I didn't know (before). I feel like I'm improving."

Rippon won his first U.S. title in January, and his sixth-place finish at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships equaled his best ever. His two goals for this season? Skate even better at the U.S. championships and finish higher at worlds.

"I had this conversation with my coach, Rafael [Arutunian], the day before I left California for Colorado," Rippon said. "He said, 'If you're not consistently doing a quad in practice, this season should be your last. Why go through Olympics if you're just going to get your credential?' And he's right. I want to make the (2018) Olympic team, and I want to be competitive. I still feel like it's in me."

Both of Rippon's programs this season are set to contemporary music with lyrics. He and Jeff Buttle created a short to Ida Corr and Fedde le Grand's "Let Me Think About It," an electronic pop track with a strong beat. His free skate, choreographed with Benji Schwimmer, is set to the powerfully evocative "Bloodstream" by the alternative rock band Stateless.

"I'm choosing music I want to skate to rather than music I think will work for the judges," Rippon said. "I'm making music choices I never in a million years would have made when I was younger. If I love something, then that will come across in the performance."

He performed the programs on Mao Asada's tour, THE ICE, which visited three Japanese cities July 30-Aug. 11.

"As much as you practice your programs, as soon as you get out there and the lights are shining, it's a completely different experience," he said. "You have different emotions; you hear different things in the music. It's vital."

Rippon will compete in a Challenger Series event prior to taking the ice at the Japan Open on Oct. 1, and then it's on to Skate America. By that time, he hopes the quadruple toe loop is in his programs.

"Raf is like, 'You've got to buckle down. We've got to do this,'" Rippon said. "I'm trying to revive the toe because it is so much easier to practice than the quad lutz. It is so much easier on my body."

Rippon landed quad toes in his short program and free skate at the 2013 NHK Trophy, but in recent seasons he has focused on the quad lutz, which technical panels have consistently downgraded or deemed under-rotated.

"It was kind of the perfect storm when I did it (at 2013 NHK)," Rippon said. "It was working really well. And then when I came back, I just sort of lost the feeling and touch of it. The lutz was kind of here and there, and I thought, 'I should focus on the lutz.' I could kick myself a little bit for that, but you know what? I'm working on it now."

Conventional wisdom says it's tough to add new quads to your arsenal at age 26, but Rippon thinks he's equipped to beat the odds.

"I look at my past, and I didn't do triple axel until I was 18," he said. "Nathan Chen isn't even 18 now. I got everything a little bit later. I think it would be totally Adam Rippon of me to get quad toe."

Injury lends Brown new perspective on quad

For Jason Brown, keeping last season's free skate was a no-brainer.

"(My choreographer) Rohene [Ward] said, 'Oh, you're keeping it -- we worked too hard on it. And it will be great for you, because you can get your back healthy and not stress out about a new program,'" said Brown, 21, who will once again skate to "The Scent of Love" from the soundtrack of The Piano. "And he was right. I could focus on that recovery and just fine-tune."

A strained back forced Brown to withdraw from the 2016 U.S. Championships in January. He returned in late April for the Team Challenge Cup, where he debuted a new short to "Appassionata" by Secret Garden. His recovery, though, continued into the offseason.

"I've worked with the strength and conditioning people at the OTC (Olympic Training Center) to make the back so much stronger, and it's doing great now," Brown said. "I know my body better; I know when not to push too much. I know the value of recovery a lot more than I ever did before."

Brown, who has not yet landed a clean quad in competition, trains quad toe and quad salchow, and said he feels good about his progress.

"I think last season I was trying to beat the clock -- it was this constant push, push, push," he said. "Now, I'm my own clock. I have to do it the way that works for me and not try to set a time limit. I need to do it right and healthy and keep a good mindset. It's an 18-month thing for me, to get into that (2018) Olympic program I hope to do, which includes more than one quad."

Kori Ade, who coaches Brown in Monument, Colorado, thinks the injury may help Brown in the long run.

"He got to sit back and gain perspective and say, 'I don't need to be Shoma [Uno], I don't need to be Yuzuru [Hanyu] -- I need to be me,'" she said. "He matured a lot during this injury."

The relaxed attitude seemed to work at Champs Camp.

"He did a gorgeous quad salchow today and a gorgeous quad toe," Ade said Sunday. "All of sudden there was a little buzz in World Arena, because we've been sort of under the radar."

Aaron hopes to add quad toe to programs

Max Aaron is also working to up the quad ante this season, with plans to add quad toes to both of his programs. He already does a quad salchow in his short program and two in his free skate.

"Doing two different quads doesn't just take a lot of energy -- it's also mentally challenging," Aaron said. "You have to change your mindset real quick; you have to do the pattern (leading into the jumps) correctly. That's something I've been struggling with and I'm going to try to work through this year. I would love to be able to do it comfortably during the Olympic year."

The U.S. silver medalist had quad toes and salchows in his free skate at several events during the 2013-14 season but wasn't satisfied with the results. This season, he thinks he may have found an answer.

"I'm using an inside three-turn (entrance) like Ryan Bradley, and I think Brian Boitano, did," Aaron said. "It's kind of old school in a way, but it's been working. I wanted to try something new because obviously the three-turn (entrance) wasn't working under pressure."

Aaron debuted his new free skate, choreographed by Phillip Mills to music from The Lion King, at the 2016 U.S. Collegiate Figure Skating Championships at the end of July and was thrilled with the audience response.

He said, "When the music started, you could hear a lot of whispering and chatting in the crowd, and I was like, 'Everybody knows this music.' I love that. I want people to sing along."