Ice Network

Brown attempts to reboot career with Orser & Co.

Former U.S. champion excited to train alongside other high-level skaters
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Jason Brown hopes that working alongside several other world-class athletes in Brian Orser's rink can take his skating to the next level. -Getty Images

Even before he failed to make the 2018 Olympic team, Jason Brown sensed the time had come for him to make a significant change.

Part of such a change was bound to seem momentous, given that the 2014 Olympian had spent his entire 18-year figure skating career with the same coach, Kori Ade. Once Brown graduated high school, he followed Ade from the Chicago suburbs to Monument, Colorado.

"Kori is like a second mom to me," Brown said via telephone from Toronto. "That's what made it hard to take the next jump."

It was quite the leap.

Brown, the 2015 U.S. champion, announced Tuesday he was moving to the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club, where coach Brian Orser presides over a group of singles skaters that next season also will include: two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan; two-time world bronze medalist Boyang Jin of China; two-time world champion and 2018 Olympic silver medalist Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia; 2017 world bronze medalist Gabrielle Daleman of Canada; 13-year-old phenom Stephen Gogolev of Canada; and, occasionally, two-time world champion Javier Fernández of Spain, torn between full competitive retirement and the idea of trying for a seventh straight European title.

Being on the ice with such skaters will be a tremendous change for Brown, who was by far the most accomplished skater at his rinks in Illinois and Colorado.

"I have never been long term in a place with a ton of high-level people, so I really have no idea what that environment will be like," Brown said. "I'm very internally driven, so it has never been a huge piece for me to be in a place like that for motivation.

"At the same time, I couldn't be more excited and honored to train alongside some of the greatest skaters in the world. Can I learn from them? I hope so. I'm turning a page, and the future awaits."

At the outset, Brown will not have a primary coach in Toronto; instead, his team will consist of Orser, Tracy Wilson, Karen Preston, Lee Barkell and choreographer David Wilson.

"He's a great kid, with great energy," Orser said. "Tracy was really impressed with everything about him. The important thing in us taking him was that he was willing to work in a team effort and not always with one base coach."

After a one-day visit to the Cricket Club in April, Brown said Orser told him a team approach would be the only possible arrangement. Brown left without knowing if the coach would be able to fit him in.

Before Brown accepted the offer Orser made in early May, the coach told him Jin also would be coming. Orser intends to be the primary coach of Jin, Hanyu and Medvedeva.

"I'm excited that Brian was very open about playing [the coaching arrangement] by ear," Brown said. "I might love the fact I will work with different coaches and travel with different coaches. Once I figure out who I am most comfortable with, we can go with that."

Brown, 23, said he told Ade after competing at the Four Continents Championships in late January that he wanted to explore a different coaching and living situation. During days off from the Stars on Ice tour, he met with five coaches in five cities. After the final visit, Brown called Wilson back to say he wanted to work with her and the rest of the coaching team, if they would have him.

"I'm not going to be able to go the extra mile, to go to every competition with Jason," Orser said. "Hopefully we can manage things where we will have more than one skater at the same event, and I will be there."

The Cricket Club appealed to Brown for reasons beyond working with Orser.

"I wanted a four-year plan, and I didn't want to be bouncing around," Brown said. "I was looking for a place where I could grow as a person, and being in a big city like Toronto was a definite draw.

"I always knew I wanted to do four more years, but even if I made the (2018) Olympic team, I didn't know exactly what I was going to do. Maybe I would have taken a year off. I ended up getting a break I didn't know I needed. What happened sparked a fire within."

What happened was this: Brown came to the 2018 U.S. Championships with the second-best selection resume among the men in the field. He was third in the short program. He would be the penultimate performer in the free skate, with only Nathan Chen, a lock to make the Olympic team, skating after him. Because of the results before him, when Brown took the ice in San Jose, he knew a clean -- or nearly clean -- program would put him on the team.

What followed was a competitive disaster. Brown fell, had one jump downgraded, under-rotated two other jumps and was dinged with negative Grades of Execution on five elements. He placed sixth in the free skate and sixth overall, finishing more than 20 points out of third.

Vincent Zhou and Adam Rippon got the other two Olympic spots. Brown went into a funk that lasted six weeks.

"I was shattered, but I tried to keep the pieces glued together until Four Continents (where he finished third behind Jin and eventual Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan)," Brown said. "After that event, I broke. I needed to call someone every day (usually his dad) to get me out of bed. The funk would have lasted much longer if it hadn't been for how incredible my family and friends were."

His family was supposed to spend February with him in South Korea at the Olympics. Instead, his parents went to Palm Springs, California, and he crashed with them for several weeks. They hiked and talked. He watched the Olympics and cheered as hard as possible for Team USA from afar. He slowly began to come to grips with the reality that he wasn't with the team in PyeongChang and needed to find a way to move forward.

"I don't want to say it's the worst thing that could have happened to me, but in that moment, that's what you think," Brown said. "It's not easy to go through such disappointment in the public eye. Obviously, you gain perspective as time goes on.

"I kind of faced my worst nightmare, and I'm fine. It taught me how to be resilient. I'm stronger than ever mentally and emotionally. I don't look back for a second now and say, 'What if?' Getting out of that environment of constant training, training, training and getting a broader sense of the world was crucial."

Brown stayed generally in shape in case he was needed for the world championships in Milan, for which he was first alternate. The year before, his seventh-place showing at worlds was critical to helping the U.S. gain three spots for the Olympics and 2018 worlds.

But as time went on, and the 2018 U.S. world team situation remained unsettled, he realized going to worlds might be more detrimental to his emotional health than staying home.

"Why was I going to put myself through something right when I'm getting back to being strong?" he said.

That led him to decline the invitation to worlds after Rippon withdrew in early March. His eventual replacement, Max Aaron, helped save the third U.S. men's spot for 2019.

Instead of skating at worlds, Brown went with his older sister, Jordan, a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, on a two-week trip to New Zealand. That getaway -- and skating on the subsequent Stars on Ice tour -- became part of his emotional recovery from the shock of not making the Olympics.

A mishap on the SOI tour means Brown now is facing a physical recovery. He slipped on confetti at the April 27 stop in Detroit and sprained his right ankle. Doctors advised him not to jump at all for a month, and Brown said he will wait until July to begin serious work on jumping.

"It would be nice if we could start that work right now, but there is so much we can do off the ice, and he can begin working with David on selecting music and putting together his long program," Orser said.

Brown's longtime choreographer, Rohene Ward, already has done his short program for next season.

An inability to master quadruple jumps (Brown never has received full credit for one in competition) has put Brown at a substantial scoring disadvantage against the sport's elite.

"We will be working on his (jumping) technique," Orser said. "It's not that he has bad technique; it's just different from what we teach, especially in terms of when to begin rotating in the air."

Brown insisted the coaching shift was about much more than quads.

"It wasn't all about technical things or jump technique," he said. "It was definitely a factor in what I was looking at in another coach, but I wanted someone who can help me in all aspects of skating, and the biggest factor was I needed a change."

The defining moment in Brown's career to this point -- the scintillating Riverdance free skate at the 2014 U.S. Championships that earned him a place on the Olympic team and millions of YouTube views -- came four years ago. Despite winning the 2015 U.S. title, the skater, a fan favorite due to his dynamism and heart-on-his-sleeve personality, struggled with consistency and health issues the next three years. An injury kept him out of the 2016 U.S. Championships, and his 2016-17 season was a roller-coaster until the solid showing at worlds.

"I don't think I have truly tapped into my potential in terms of the technical side of the sport," he said. "And even in the artistry, I feel I can grow a lot more.

"I really do believe there is something bigger coming up, many more defining moments to create," he said. "If I didn't, I would not have continued."

***

Brian Orser sees a little of a young Javier Fernández in 20-year-old Boyang Jin.

"He is super talented but a bit of a loose cannon, like Javi was when he came to me (also at age 20)," Orser said. "I have to give him direction and purpose. That will come with maturity."

The new president of the Chinese Skating Association, Xue Shen, the 2010 Olympic pairs champion with husband Hongbo Zhao, approached Orser at worlds in March to discuss the possibility of his coaching Jin. The skater staggered into 19th place at worlds after winning bronze the previous two years.

"With the next Winter Olympics in Beijing, she (Shen) is shaking things up a little," Orser said. "I know it's about medals, medals, medals in Beijing."

Orser said Wednesday he has had no extended conversation with Jin since the deal was struck. They chatted briefly at a show in South Korea last month, when Orser also had the meeting with Medvedeva that led to her upcoming training move to Canada.

Although Jin is in Toronto doing choreography with Lori Nichol, Orser does not expect to work with him until mid-June. The coach is going on vacation next week and then to Japan for a Hanyu ice show.

When the Japanese Skating Federation approached Orser about having Hanyu work with him in 2012, the coach asked Fernández to sign off on the idea. Orser approached the Jin situation differently with Hanyu when they met in April at the Japanese superstar's apartment in Toronto.

"I didn't really ask [Hanyu] for permission," Orser said. "I just threw it out there to get his reaction, and I didn't really get one. I'm sure if there was an issue, I would have heard about it by now."

***

Orser said he will arrange schedules to avoid having daily "star wars" at the Cricket Club in the upcoming season.

"I don't expect to have them all on the ice at the same time, except when they are just doing stroking," he said. "And we have ice time at another rink, so it will be manageable."