What a journey Jason Brown has taken, since the first time I laid eyes on him at the Junior Grand Prix Final in Quebec City three years ago. I remember him not because he won the gold medal, but because of the way he did it. He had flair, this young man with the hippie-dippie pony tail. He was memorable, even without a triple Axel. And because he didn’t have that triple Axel nailed down yet, he had style.
Now he’s the U.S. silver medalist. In spite of the fact that this is only his first season as a senior, he won the men’s long program at the U.S. championships, while skating to “Riverdance.” What genius, choosing that music for Brown: it has changes of moods and energy too, lots of opportunity to show off his footwork and personality. It suits him. And as homage to Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz, who skated to “Riverdance” at the 1998 Olympics, Brown incorporated a Bourne-Kraatz-like hydroblading move. He’s definitely aware of the skating history of that music choice. It seemed as if there was nothing that Brown could not do. Almost as one, people in the crowd began to stand up before he had even finished his final spin. He had a standing ovation and it wasn’t his first.
What has happened since that memorable day, when Brown earned a spot on the US Olympic team, is even more remarkable. Brown has attracted 3,477,263 hits on the YouTube showing of his free skate at the U.S. nationals. That’s in viral territory, particularly compared to the attention that other top skaters are getting on that internet video site. (What would we do without YouTube?)
It has been said that 12 million people watch figure skating in Japan. Surely, YouTube hits there would be viral, too, with the Olympics in the offing and tight contests in the singles events. Star Mao Asada is shown to have 55,077 hits in the free, although 78,392 in the short.
Japanese star, Daisuke Takahashi, who didn’t skate particularly well, but who was awarded a spot on the Japanese Olympic team anyway, attracted 66,036 hits on YouTube for his long program, only 10,547 for his short.
Yuzuru Hanyu, now one of the co-favourites to win gold in the men’s event in Sochi after taking the Grand Prix Final with world record scores, got only 23,395 hits for his free skate.
Patrick Chan, also a gold medal contender with his three world championship wins and lofty scores, got 5,060 hits on YouTube for his free program.
Back home in the United States, veteran Jeremy Abbott, as beautiful a skater as there is in the country, won the gold medal in the men’s event, but got 10,824 viewers of his free skate on YouTube.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the United States’ best hope for a gold medal in figure skating, took their twizzles to YouTube and garnered 27,378 for their free dance, after being called “the best in their sport at the moment.”
Okay, women’s events in the United States have always held a particular allure for American viewers. So what about Ashley Wagner, who has been the veteran face of the team for the past couple of years? Her long program had a healthy 86,724 viewers.
The golden girl is always tops in the United States though, so is it any surprise that people wanted to see, again and again, Gracie Gold winning the women’s event? She got 225,783 viewers. Impressive, yes, but paling in comparison to Brown’s unusual magnetism.
Remember that Brown said that he just felt honoured to get to the Nebelhorn Trophy last September, when he won the silver medal, testing himself against seniors for the first time, and feeling that he rather belonged.
Imagine his surprise in September when he was called up from the minors to compete at Skate America, the U.S. international showplace event, in place of injured Olympic champ Evan Lysacek? But shock of shocks, he was second in the short program with a score he’d never dreamed of achieving (83.78), then he tensed up in the long and finished fifth overall.
On he went to the senior Grand Prix event in France and won the bronze medal and the hearts of the French. They loved him. Everybody loves Jason Brown. What is it?
First of all, he’s a marvellous skater. Secondly, his “Riverdance” is magical. Thirdly, so is he. It’s that constant happy mien, that humble grin, that thankful appreciative nature. When he answers a reporter’s question, they thank him, as they often do. “Thank YOU!” Brown says, still apparently incredulous that this is his life. He’s having a blast with his life. He loves to skate, no matter the rough spots. He loves the journey and he loves his life. It’s contagious. There is no telling where that could take a kid without a quad.