HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. -- It was a good weekend in Chicago.
Correction: It was a great weekend in Chicago.
Saturday night, the Chicago Cubs made it to the World Series for the first time in 71 years. The next day, hometown figure skater Jason Brown landed his first quadruple jump in competition – in Chicagoland no less, giving the “Windy City” twice as much reason to celebrate.
It marked a major milestone the Highland Park, Illinois, native has been working toward for years and one that will allow him to contend even more so with the top athletes in the world. And it answers perhaps the most frequent question he has fielded from journalists for the past four years. After falling on a quad toe in Saturday’s short program, Brown said he could not wait for the day he could step into the media mixed zone after landing a quad.
That day was Sunday, when his quad toeloop helped boost him up from third after the short program. His total score of 268.38 earned the silver medal at Skate America, behind Shoma Uno of Japan (279.34) and ahead of teammate Adam Rippon (261.43).
“I’m super, super excited,” Brown said of his quad. “Like we talked about yesterday, I’ve been dreaming about this moment. As it gets more and more consistent, it’s something I know I can get in the program. So every time I miss it, it’s that much more disappointing because I know I can do it.
“To put it out there today, here, skating last – it’s a huge victory and I’m super excited.”
The judges declared Brown’s toeloop under rotated, but he said that did not make Sunday’s jump any less of a victory.
The 21-year-old surprised even himself when he landed the quad and had to remember he was in the middle of a free skate at a grand prix and had to continue skating.
“It was kind of one of those daze-y moments,” he said. “I went up for it and it felt good and suddenly I was on one foot. It wasn’t like I had to fight for the landing or I was trying to save the jump. It was just like every day and what I’ve been practicing.
“Then it turned into, ‘Oh my god, this is happening. I’m competing right now, we’re competing, go on, the music’s still playing.’”
The confidence from his landing helped him skate clean the rest of the free skate. It is a program he says allows him to express himself more than in the past and that he has to find the balance between showing too much emotion and running out of energy by the end.
This marked Brown’s third straight medal at Skate America and fourth consecutive appearance at the event. Unlike most skaters, whose grand prix assignments change from year to year, Brown has received the assignment every season since becoming a senior-level skater.
“I kind of view it as nationals in the sense of it’s just part of my yearly regimen,” Brown explained. “It’s an awesome event and I love doing it, so I hope I continue to compete here. It’s just like, every year it feels like, ‘OK, this is the time for Skate America.’ So next year, when it’s at Thanksgiving time, it might be a little weird.”
Brown’s next grand prix assignment is in one month at NHK Trophy in Japan, where he hopes more successful quads await him.
“I think this is a great starting point and I’m excited to just hopefully keep skyrocketing.”
The quad serves as another tool Brown’s hopes will help him continue to come out on top in his battle with recent rival Adam Rippon.
The two own the past two national titles (Brown in 2015 and Rippon in ’16, when Brown was out with an injury), and are in a tight battle for this year’s crown. Skate America marked their second head-to-head competition of the season. At the first, the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic, Brown won gold while Rippon took bronze.
“It’s incredible,” Brown said of the rivalry. “I’ve always looked up to Adam. I’m such a big fan of him and his skating. We were talking about how much we push each other to be better, be stronger. We have been harped a little on not having the technical, but that makes us push each other so much more.”
The sentiment was echoed by Rippon, who also attempted a quad toe in his free skate but was unable to land it (though his was fully rotated).
“So many people are doing quads, and going into a competition my mindset and goals are to do the best program I can. And I look to Jason and I see that that’s his goal as well: to do the best performance he can,” Rippon elaborated. “I look to Jason and it’s a reminder that he gets all these points from doing all the elements so well. So when I get home, it’s not, ‘I need a quad, I need a quad,’ it’s, ‘I need to spin better because Jason’s spins are so good; I need to skate faster.’
“It’s been so nice to compete against him because I feel like we’ve both pushed each other in different ways. … Jason landed a quad today, so he’s pushing me. I have to get my butt in gear for (Trophee de France, Rippon’s next grand prix) and heading into nationals, but I have a lot of respect for Jason, and I think that it’s mutual, and I think we’re just going to push U.S. men’s skating a lot further.”
Rippon’s bronze medal and third-place finish in the free skate was a victory in itself. After all, he has only had his program for less than two weeks.
The 26-year-old competed his initial program to “Bloodstream” at the U.S. Classic and Japan Open earlier in the fall, but realized he was not connecting to the music as well as he hoped. Conversations with judges and good friend/fellow skater Florent Amodio led to Rippon realizing he should change his program.
“Florent told me, ‘If you have a good idea, you need to take advantage of it now,’ and I said you’re right,” Rippon recalled.
His new program incorporates Coldplay’s “O (Fly On)” with “Arrival of the Birds” by The Cinematic Orchestra. Rippon had been performing to Coldplay for his exhibition number and had it in the back of his mind he would hold it for the Olympic season.
The program was choreographed by Benji Schwimmer, winner of “So You Think You Can Dance,” who told Rippon of his choice for the new music, “People aren’t genius; they’re given moments of genius.”
“I really feel like I’m connecting to this music, I really feel like I’m performing to this music,” Rippon said. “I’m making the music happen instead of the music happening while I’m performing, so I’m really pleased with this choice and I think it says a lot about my training, that I was able to change it with a week and a half until the event and skate well.”
The story behind his free skate is that of a bird – the leader of the flock – whose wing is broken. Throughout the program, Rippon has flashbacks of being the leader as he tries to mend his broken wing.
“Then it’s my story when the Coldplay comes on of how I’m thinking about my broken wing and I’m still trying to fly,” he shared. “I’m waiting for it to heal, and I kind of do different movements like that all throughout the program.”
Rippon was thrilled with the way he was able to perform such a new program and knows it will only grow from there.
“There’s a lot of work to do and I will definitely be getting all of that work done,” he said.