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Jason Brown Stars on Ice 2019 Interview

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Photo by me; Enthusiasm by Jason

When I went to the Chicago stop of the Stars on Ice tour in May, I had the chance to chat with both Ashley Wagner and Jason Brown. You can check out my interview with Ashley here, and today I’m sharing my Q&A with Jason:

2015 U.S. Champion and 2014 Olympic team bronze medalist Jason Brown took some time out of his pre-show warmup at the Chicago stop of the Stars on Ice tour—his hometown show—to catch up with Figure Skaters Online. He only appeared in one weekend of shows on the tour to maximize his off-season training. Read on for more about his first year training with his new coaching team of Tracy Wilson and Brian Orser, and his friendships with other skaters at the Toronto Cricket and Curling Club.

Check out the Q&A interview on Figure Skaters Online!

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Four Favorites: Internationaux de France 2018

Well, somehow the 2018 Grand Prix Series has concluded. Anybody else feel like the Olympics were about two minutes ago? I fell off of posting a bit last week due to the holiday, but did have plenty of time to soak up the Internationaux de France and determine my four favorites from the event:

        1. In the ladies event, I liked Alexia Paganini’s rocker-rocker entrance into the triple lutz-triple toe combination in the short program. It not only added difficulty, but also highlighted the strong outside edge on the takeoff, which not everyone in this field has mastered. It was the opening element of the Swiss skater’s program:

          Honorable mention goes to the closing moments of Rika Kihira’s long program, with it’s beautifully paced choreography. I’m trying to stick with only four favorites, for alliteration and organization, but sometimes I can’t help myself.
        2. In the ice dance event, I loved how Team USA’s Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker enter their stationary lift directly out of the curve lift in the free dance. A difficult setup that shows strength and control, and helps blend the elements seamlessly into the program, rather than telegraphing them.
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        3. On the pairs side, champions Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres stood out in more ways than one, but I particularly liked their unique entry into the side-by-side salchows:
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          Setting aside that she doubled the jump here, I love this entry, choreographed by Olympic Ice Dance Champion Charlie White. They are doing different movements leading into the jump, but still have perfectly synchronized timing. Plus, this is more visually interesting than simply entering the jump by skating next to each other, as many pairs do.
        4. My favorite part of the men’s event was seeing the International Judging System as its best self. The ISU implemented a lot of changes since last season, including some that controversially devalued quads, especially quads that are underrotated or where the skater falls. I had hoped it would be a positive change, without entirely discouraging skaters from still pushing the sport forward with quad jumps. As I watched Jason Brown’s short program last Friday, I was loving it as usual, and then noticed how high the score was ticking up in the box in the top left corner of my screen. “Is it possible…is he about to win this short program?” I asked myself (aloud, as I often do when watching skating, even alone). Given that he wasn’t trying a quad, I assumed he would end up behind programs with quad attempts, even with a clean program. Not in this newest iteration of the IJS! It was great to see. And in the end, Nathan Chen, the Quad King, won the event, showing that clean quad jumps will still rule the day. But it was so heartening to see a complete program—clean skate, presentation, spins, everything Jason Brown does so beautifully—properly rewarded. Here it is:

 


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Kori Ade Interview for Figure Skaters Online

I have a new article up on Figure Skaters Online this morning!

From Forensic Science to the Olympics: Kori Ade’s Coaching Journey

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Photo Courtesy Kori Ade, via Figure Skaters Online

It was a complete thrill to talk with Kori, best known for coaching the incredible Jason Brown, who is competing at Skate Canada this weekend. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Kori Ade thrives in high-pressure situations.

The Colorado-based coach, who was named the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating/Professional Skaters Association’s Developmental Coach of the Year, doesn’t wallow when faced with a problem or a challenge. In her words, she “just keeps rolling” and works to find a solution.

In 2013, she decided to move to Colorado from Chicago to further her coaching career. The day before her moving truck arrived, the phone rang and she learned that she didn’t get the coaching job she had been counting on at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs. She was also seven months pregnant with her second daughter.

Ade hung up the phone and sprang into action, calling Colorado Springs-area rinks. The man who picked up the phone at Monument Ice Rink in Monument, Colorado, was willing to give her a chance.

“He told me that they basically turned off the lights and locked the door of the rink during the day,” Ade said. “So I said, just leave a couple lights on and I will build you a program. Give me a year.”

So the next day, she packed up the moving truck and headed west.

That was in March 2013. By February 2014, she was by the boards at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, coaching American Jason Brown to a bronze medal in the team event and a 9th place finish in the men’s event.

For more on how Kori built her program, 7K International Skating Academy, her coaching philosophy, and her approach to this year’s Olympic season, read the rest of the article on Figure Skaters Online.


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Flashback Friday: Skate America 2016

When I moved to Chicago this summer, one of the things I was most excited about was that it was the host city for the 2016 Skate America. Yes, I just saw unforgettable live skating at the 2016 Worlds in Boston. And yes, I also got to attend the 2014 U.S. Nationals in Boston. And yes, yes, one of my good skating buddies told me it just wasn’t fair that I keep living in cities that host awesome skating competitions.

But in seriousness, I am really grateful for the opportunity to see some of today’s most incredible skaters live and in person. Watching on TV is great (and that’s what I’ll be doing for U.S. Nationals next week, no doubt), but there is something about the emotion and electricity of being in the arena, about being close enough to see the expressions on the skaters’ faces as they control their nerves and deliver flawless performances, selling it to the last row.

So I was pretty excited to show up to the Sears Centre, site of Skate America, with my all-event ticket this past October. On this Flashback Friday, let’s count down the reasons it was awesome:

QUAD

As in…Shoma Uno’s QUAD FLIP. But it wasn’t just any quad flip—it was light and airy, with great height and landed with exquisite knee bend (wow, that last phrase is definitely from the Dick Button canon). He had such command of the jump, and of his whole program:

I really enjoyed Shoma’s performance at Worlds last year, and it’s great to watch him come into his own this season.

TRIPLE

As in three Notre Dame Figure Skating alums reuniting to watch some awesome skating:

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DOUBLE

As in the number of times I cried: two. Once when Mariah Bell brought the house down with an incredible long program:

I loved all the spirals in the choreography, plus, she just oozed ease and grace throughout the performance.

And the second time during Jason Brown’s free skate. Not only did he land his first quad in competition, but he skated a moving, understated, and flawless performance. If you don’t watch the whole program, at least skip ahead to 5:46. One of the competition volunteers was epically weeping at the boards after his program, and Jason gave her a huge hug. He’s the sweetest (I can confirm, because we got to meet him after the medal ceremony and he was gracious and generous towards all the fans.).

SINGLE

As in one awesome ponytail pose from Maia Shibutani:

The Shib Sibs’ “That’s Life” short dance was superb: sharp, crisp, hip hop movement, and a creative cut of music, mixing Sinatra’s version of the song with Jay-Z. It’s my favorite of all the hip hop short dances this year, because it’s so clever and well done.

Were any fellow skating fanatics at the Sears Centre, too? What were your favorite moments?


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Impressions: Skate America 2015

I’m about to sit down and watch the Ice Network feeds from Skate Canada, but before I do that, it’s probably time to type out some of my thoughts on last weekend’s Skate America:

  • I was surprised that Gracie lost to Evengia Medvedeva. It’s pretty clear that it came down to the points she lost doubling her flip in the short program and her salchow in the long. Man, is this a numbers game or what? Medvedeva was thinking on her feet and added two combinations during her program, after falling on an earlier intended combination. It’s that kind of quick thinking that makes a difference in this judging system. Once Gracie gets enough confidence in her elements in competition, she is going to have to do that too—especially if she makes a mistake early in a long program.

    Image Source: fs-gossips.com

  • On a more superficial and less mathematical note, I loved Medvedeva’s dress (except the gloves, I am rarely a fan of gloves). The color and the varying sequin design were just gorgeous. Her fellow Russian and training mate, Julia Lipnitskaia, continues to make puzzling fashion choices, like this dress for her Elvis-themed short program:

    Image Source: dailyherald.com

    According to the NBC commentary team, these two ladies don’t speak to each other and won’t skate on the same ice. It makes Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner’s relationship look positively chummy in comparison. I find the respectful rivalry between Gold and Wagner really refreshing and mature, and even moreso in light of this information about these Russian rivals.

  • Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim of the U.S. look FAST and their elements have the “big” quality that so many Russian and Chinese teams have excelled at while Americans did not; I think this could be their year to break through.
  • And on the opposite end of the spectrum from a breakthrough, we have the Russian team of Stolbova and Klimov. They skipped the World Championships last year and ended their season early to begin preparation for this season, and, allegedly, a quad element. I’m not quite sure what they did during their time off, because they seemed to barely have a handle on the elements they used to execute flawlessly. Is something else going on here?
  • The ice dance situation this season seems discombobulated—several teams have already been through multiple short dances, because they can’t seem to get the rhythm requirements right. I can’t believe that Chock and Bates are on their third short dance of the season already, and honestly, it didn’t look like it. They looked very confident, despite only having done a few runthroughs of the entire program, according to NBC commentator Tanith White. All these struggles with program and music choices sort of make me wonder about the quality of the pre-competition evaluations that federations are doing or whether the rules are too specific.
  • One distinctly non-discombobulated portion of the dance event was the overall performance of Russians Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov. They were utterly forgettable last season, so I was really impressed by their improvement and connection here. I will admit that I was more on the side of Katsalapov’s previous partner Elena Illinykh when they rather abruptly and strangely split after their bronze at the Sochi Olympics. She seems so passionate about skating and he seemed a bit apathetic last year. If these performances are any indication, I may be converted and enjoy them both with their new partners.

    Image Source: youtube.com

  • I’m not sure how I feel about Jason Brown’s long program. It’s beautiful, yes, but it is also so quiet. There is no big crescendo of emotion, which he is so good at. I’ll be interested to see this program develop as the season goes on.

And now, on to Canada!


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The Quad Game, Take 2

After the U.S. Championships and heading into Worlds this year, all the talk was about U.S. skater Jason Brown’s lack of a quad. Chicago Tribune columnist Phillip Hersh was skeptical that Brown could take on the top guys in the world without it. USA Today columnist Christine Brennan thought the US judges were inflating their scores too much and setting their skaters up for failure on the world stage. I threw my two cents in and agreed with Brennan, saying it seemed like Brown was over-rewarded at Nationals.

I think it’s safe to say that all three of us were wrong.

Brown took 4th place at Worlds and then set a record at the World Team Trophy, earning the highest-ever international score by a U.S. man. All without that oft-talked about quad. How does he do it? Attention to detail.

He racks up the points in the International Judging System (IJS) with intricate transitions and jump entrances, as well as difficult spin positions that he is able to perform at incredible speeds. And the jumps he does do are usually clean; no under rotations or scratchy landings, which usually earns him positive grades of execution on plenty of elements. All those points add up, sometimes more so than one 13-point quad will. Especially against guys who get rattled after missing a quad and skate poorly through the rest of the program. Brown’s adeptness at collecting points reminds me of his fellow Chicagoan, Evan Lysacek. Lysacek was able to work the point system so well that he leapt from 10th after the short to 4th overall at the 2006 Olympics and won the gold medal at the 2010 Games ahead of Evegni Plushenko’s quads.

Figure skater Jason Brown performs at the 2015 World Team Trophy

Brown performs his long program at the 2015 World Team Trophy. Image Source: zimbio.com

Brennan’s argument that Brown’s Nationals scores were inflated is not entirely without merit. The 30-point difference is significant, but all U.S. Nationals scores are inflated compared to international scores. In international competition, seven judges’ marks count towards the score; nine judges are used at U.S. events. Combine that with a bit of the inflation Brennan was talking about, and I think it’s easy to account for those 30 points.

The IJS definitely has its quirks and weaknesses (I have enough thoughts on this for a whole other post), but those who study it and work it like Brown does are the ones that will have the most success. And despite the shortcomings of the IJS, it is great how the system encourages skaters to use unique entrances and transitions throughout their programs. Yuzuru Hanyu’s triple axel entrance from his short program at the 2014 Olympics and Evan Lysacek’s 2006 Olympic long program are two of my favorite examples of these types of innovative transitions.

This isn’t to say that Brown won’t need the quad eventually. His best-ever score by a U.S. man ranks 31st all-time in the IJS, behind the likes of quad kings Javier Fernandez of Spain, Patrick Chan of Canada, and Japanese Olympic Champion Yuzuru Hanyu. But if Brown can do all this without the quad, imagine the numbers once he has it in his arsenal.

The quad game is definitely ongoing, and we might have spoken a bit too soon in writing off Brown’s international chances. Here’s hoping he masters the quad over the summer, but even if he doesn’t, I think we’ve learned it’s not wise to count Brown out.