Olympics / Sports

Jason Brown's life still spinning after Olympics

The way 2014 began for Jason Brown hardly was promising.

Three days before Brown was to leave his training base south of Denver for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston, the sedan he was driving hit black ice and spun out of control. As the car careened off barriers on both sides of the road, Brown prayed no other vehicle would hit his.

Three days later, the 19-year-old from Highland Park, Ill., found himself bouncing around the country after two canceled flights, two missed connections and an unexpected middle-of-the-night layover at home on the way to Boston.

To many athletes on the verge of such an important competition, one where the 2014 Olympic team would be picked, such a delay might have seemed like the end of the world. To Brown, full of fresh perspective on what could have been, it was only a minor inconvenience.

He was safe and sound, and he was thinking of the Boston championships as a chance to understand what an Olympic-year nationals was like to better prepare him to make the U.S. team in 2018 or 2022.

Then everything went into an exhilarating spin.

It started Jan. 12, when Brown won the free skate at nationals with a performance that got the crowd on its feet with 10 seconds to go, drew 4.4 million YouTube views and also earned him one of the two men's spots on the 2014 Olympic team.

A month later, he was winning a bronze medal in the Olympic team event.

A few weeks after that, he was hobnobbing with movie stars at the premiere of the film, "Divergent;" doing a second appearance on the Arsenio Hall Show; reminding President Barack Obama during a White House visit that he, too, was from Chicago; performing part of his suddenly iconic "Riverdance" free skate on the Today Show; and touring with Stars On Ice, which plays Allstate Arena on May 3 -- a few hours after Brown is to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at Wrigley Field.

"It has absolutely been a whirlwind," Brown said via telephone from Colorado, where he was on a break from the ice show tour.

Brown, who moved west with coach Kori Ade after his December 2012 graduation from Highland Park High School, is using the Rosemont show as a way to thank everyone at the high school for their support.

He is donating his performance fee to the school's charity drive, this year benefiting the Les Turner ALS Foundation. And $10 of any ticket purchased through Ticketmaster with the offer code "Jason" also will go to the charity.

"You do look back and wonder how this all happened, and it has moved so fast," Brown said. "What has come with making the Olympic team is so beyond what I imagined, but I love every minute of it."

Brown already is looking forward, determined to make second place at nationals and the 2014 Olympics and its aftermath a highlight of his career, not the highlight.

He has begun serious work on the one jump missing from his arsenal, a quad, that Brown says is not certain to be ready for next season's first serious competition, which likely will be October's Skate America at the Sears Centre. He is practicing parts of a new free skate to music he chooses not to reveal yet.

At the Olympics, Brown was in contention for the individual event bronze after a strong sixth in the short program, and even more so after nearly all the other top men slopped through the free skate. Brown's free skate also was underwhelming, and he wound up ninth overall, 11th in the free skate.

"I skated my heart out and fought through the entire program, but I'm disappointed I couldn't have done better," he said.

"It was a great learning experience. I got to skate last at the Olympics, and I was in medal contention, and that is the perfect scenario for a first Olympics. I hope I get to go back and be a medal favorite and be on that podium."

To Brown, the best part of the season was the public's enthusiasm for the Riverdance program.

That reaction also left him briefly with a feeling of can-you-top-this angst.

"At the end of the year, I was thinking, 'I don't know if I will ever feel that excitement and thrill of a program again; what will I do next year?' " he said.

Then his choreographer, Rohene Ward, sent the mysterious piece of music that quickly grew on Brown.

"I definitely thought I was going to have a letdown, but this put me back at the same excitement level," he said. "It's completely different from 'Riverdance,' but I feel it can be just as impactful and moving and hopefully just as iconic."

That would really be wild.

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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