American figure skater Jason Brown probably won't win an individual medal at these Olympics, but he might end up becoming a household name anyway. If that seems odd to you, don't worry, we can explain.
Who is Jason Brown?
Brown is a 19-year-old figure skater from Highland Park, Ill., who burst onto the scene when he won silver at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships (we'll come back to that). He is competing in his first Olympics in Sochi, and he's the kind of fresh-faced athlete over whom commentators tend to lose their shit, Brennamanishly. If you watch him skate, you're very likely to hear someone say something about what "great young man" he is.
If he won silver at the U.S. championships, why are you so sure he won't win an Olympic medal?
Because he can't do quadruple jumps, which is when a skater leaps into the air and completes four full rotations before landing. Quads are the most difficult jump to land, and in recent years they've essentially become a requirement for any Olympic hopeful. It doesn't matter how many perfect triples a skater lands; if he can't do a quad, he's probably not going to win anything.
So, you're saying Jason Brown kind of sucks.
Well then how the hell is he going to become a household name if he can't even do a damn quad?
By being really, really awesome at everything else a figure skater does. Watching the biggest names in the sport go flying through the air and sticking quadruple toe loops is great, but there are other ways to put on a visually stunning program, and nobody understands that better than Brown. If the other skaters in the Olympics are the power pitchers of the sport, then consider Jason Brown the R.A. Dickey of figure skating. The other guys dominate with physical strength, but Brown dips and dances through his programs in a way that is just as impressive.
Which brings us to the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. After placing third in the short program standings, Brown came out for his free skate and did this:
I'm not going to pretend to be the biggest figure skating fan in the world, but there is something undeniably affecting about that routine. And judging by the standing ovation Brown got from the crowd and the 3.8 million views that video has accrued on YouTube, I'm not the only one who thinks so. There's a relentlessness to that program, one that makes it hard not to get swept up by the precision and fluidity of Brown's movements.
But a performance like that doesn't just happen by accident. As The New York Times reveals, Brown's "Riverdance" program was just as daring as it was meticulously and uniquely constructed:
Because of the intricacy of the choreography, Brown and [choreographer Rohene] Ward regularly spent a two-hour lesson on just one five-second segment. Ward said it took three weeks for Brown to perform the footwork without stumbling, and only then did he add the arm and body movements.
To get the effect he wanted and the points Brown needed, there could be no significant slowing of the pace until the final note. This sets the program apart and is one of the keys to its appeal, but all that came at a price.
"When we started this program every day, he would say, 'This is impossible,' " Ade said. "Because it's nonstop. There are no choreographed breathing points after the first four seconds when he's staring down the judges. The only place he really gets to breathe is when he's spinning."
It's hard not to appreciate someone who isn't afraid to challenge the parameters of his sport. So Jason Brown can't do a quad? That's fine, he'll just put together a stunning program that has some of the most complicated choreography you've ever seen, and it will be so good that you'll have no choice but to stand and cheer for him when it's done.
I'm starting to like this guy. How's he doing so far at the Olympics?
Not too bad! He helped earn the United States a bronze medal in the team skating event, and this morning his short program was good enough to put him in sixth place. The program was also awesome because he skated to a Prince song, and wore a shirt emblazoned with Prince's famous symbol:
But it's the free skate that will really give Brown a chance to show his stuff. That will be broadcast live on Friday at 10 a.m. He may not skate well enough to win a medal, but he will hopefully prove once again that there is more than one way to be a great figure skater.