Ahead of the ISU World Figure Skating Championships on 24-28 March 2021, the American skater spoke exclusively to Olympic Channel about how coaches Tracy (Wilson) and Brian (Orser) are helping him do that, following the disappointment of missing out on PyeongChang 2018.
READ: More about what Brown learnt from the difficulties of 2020 and the cancellation of Skate Canada in our feature here.
The full Q&A from that Jason Brown interview is below. It has been edited for clarity and length.
Keeping an eye on Beijing 2022
Olympic Channel [OC]: Tell us a little bit about life after [U.S. Nationals 2021 in] Vegas, where you competed for the first time – at least in a full-fledged event – in person this season. What have you been up to since?
Jason Brown: Yeah, so after Vegas, I took about three weeks off, not totally intentional, but I took a week to see my family because I hadn't seen them since June, since coming back to Canada to start training again. And then after I saw my family, I went back to Canada. I quarantined for two weeks in Toronto, and then I started my training for worlds.
And it's just been a day-to-day grind as we lead into worlds; we're working our butts off. I can't wait to get to Sweden.
OC: You won your sixth career U.S. medal at nationals. What did this one, in particular, mean to you?
Brown: Wow, I didn't even realize it was my sixth, but I think it just speaks of the consistency and the longevity in the sport that I've had. And I'm really proud of that. And especially this year, I think there was a lot of ups and downs and kind of dealing with a lot of twists and turns that many athletes were.
To be able to make it back to nationals and skate as well as I did and to feel like, ‘OK, we had all this craziness, but we were able to make it work.’ I think it spoke to our adaptability, not just mine, but my entire team. I was very, really, really proud of that.
OC: Your short program, to Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman,” is going to be with you for two seasons, into the Olympic year. How do you explain that decision from both a strategic and artistic point of view?
Brown: When I was home for quarantine, I started skating first in Chicago at the very end before coming back to Canada, and that was to get my programs choreographed. And that was with my longtime choreographer, Rohene Ward. While I was there, we recorded two short programs, one being “Sinnerman.”
We knew it was a very special piece and it took a lot of energy... it’s really, really intricate. When I came back to Toronto and I showed Tracy and Brian the programs. And I was like, ‘Here's the short that we were planning for this current season. And then here’s “Sinnerman,” which I think could be the short program for the Olympic year.’ And they were like, ‘No, no, no. We're going to work on this for two years.’ And it became my short program for this year along with next year.
I think that it is so important for me to push my artistic ability and push the sport artistically. But that being said, it's also a goal of mine to continue pushing, pushing as hard as I can, technically. So, having the time to really grow this program over two years, I'm really, really excited to see where it will be in February of 2022 because it's grown so, so immensely from the summer of 2020. I just know that it's still a work in progress, it's still marinating. But it's just going to get better and stronger and more intricate. And I think that you'll be able to see it looking just really seasoned in a year.
2018 lessons - and Toronto's impact
OC: When you look at 2014, going to Sochi, and then 2018, where you missed out on the [USA Olympic] team... How much do you feel now for yourself and where you are as a competitor and as a person that you're trying to use all of those experiences and channel it through your practice, your training, your competition, all of that on the ice?
Brown: I definitely think that the experience in both 2014 and then the years into 2018 have really prepared me for these next four years. I definitely feel that I've been through a ton. I've learned from it immensely and I do believe that, from those darker days, I really found the light and was able to really get stronger from it and learn about myself, and I'm so proud of how far I've come.
I think a big part of what I love about the sport is how much joy it brings me. And I just I love to skate. I love being out in front of a crowd. I love working every single day to better myself. And I do think that there was a lot of in 2013-14, I just had this kind of momentum that was going and there was definitely kind of decline in 2018... I was struggling. After I, in a way, crumbled to pieces, I was able, in that moment, to kind of put myself back together. And that's what I've been doing since then.
OC: Three years into being in Toronto, living there and training there, what do you feel like you're most thankful for in your time there? And what do you still feel like you want to get out of that experience?
Brown: Something that was very neat when I moved to Toronto, it was really my first experience with Tracy or Brian. It was literally like getting introduced to people I've never met before and [who were] meeting me for the first time. And so there was a lot of just getting to know each other. Every experience was a different experience for us. Every competition felt different. And I was trying to figure that out. How we were going to survive together? How is it going to feel? I definitely think that through each experience we learned about each other and we've just grown stronger as a team.
Every single experience that has occurred in the last three years, I think, has made us that much stronger together. And I do think that even though this year was unfortunate and the way that the season unfolded and with Covid and with the restrictions, it was really difficult. But it also gave me a lot more time with my coaches to get to know them even more and really just continue our training together. I’m really looking forward to getting back to the competition stage with them on my side.
Jason Brown on: Art, Vegas, and leaving a legacy
OC: A lot of fans look at you as one of the pure artists in men's figure skating in modern times. How do you view that? And do you feel like sometimes is that a double-edged sword or because there's also the technical demands, too? How do you try to balance that?
Brown: I think it is a mix. I fell in love with the sport because of the performance aspect of it. I saw my sister skating in a show at like five or six years old, and I just, like, fell in love with the lights and the performance and the costumes. And just I remember wanting to be out there on the ice and skating to music. I wanted that chance to do it, and so I do think that that was what initially brought me to the sport.
I love the fact that it blends artistry and technique in such a beautiful way. What we talked about earlier, with keeping a program for two years, that is a huge reason of why I'm doing it. I want to continue to push the artistry, but I also want to be at the Olympics with the most difficult technical program that I possibly can do. And so I do think it's my way of balancing out the two by keeping that program for two years so that I can push both sides.
But it is difficult. I think if you watch my programs when I skate, there is no break: I am constantly moving, constantly going in and out of every element. And I just absolutely love it. It’s part of the performance that I am not willing to give up for an element.
OC: How much do you feel like Vegas and the fact that you've travelled a little bit, competed without fans, been on a plane, double masking... How much do you feel like that's going to help you in the Stockholm scenario?
Brown: I think leading into Vegas, I was definitely very concerned about the unknowns and about travelling and about what it’s going to be like without fans. Even throughout that week when I was there, I remember talking to Tracy and I was like, ‘I don't even know how to pace my programs.’ ‘Will I get energy from being on the ice?’
I think one of the best things that I left Vegas with was a better understanding of what those situations are like. I'm really fortunate to have had that experience. And I'm really happy to say that I'm going into the world championships. I'm not afraid to fly. I got that out of the way. I'm really not afraid to compete without an audience.
"Obviously, I prefer the fans and the audience was there [because] there's nothing like skating in front of a stadium full of people. But I'm aware of what it feels like to skate with no one there, so I definitely have some peace of mind going into Stockholm, having been through a similar experience in the past." - Jason Brown on skating with no fans
OC: Eight seasons on the Grand Prix, an Olympics, a missed team, moving to Toronto, touring. All of that. How do you reflect on the life you’ve built for yourself as a figure skater?
Brown: So whenever I talk to my grandfather, we never go through a conversation without him reminding me that if you do what you love and love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life. And I think that I just feel so incredibly fortunate to have taken this passion of mine and turned it into this career.
It wasn't something I planned. It wasn't something I set out when I was five years old, being like, ‘I want to go to the Olympics!’
I've built this life for myself and this career and I'm just so proud and thankful for everyone that has helped me get to where I am. People always talk about, you know, the iceberg, where, you might only see a little piece of the iceberg, but there's so much ice and there's so much of this insane base below the surface that goes unnoticed. And I just have been so fortunate to work with so many incredible people in the last 21 years of my skating career that have gotten me to this point. And I learned something from each and every person and they've made every day so special. And I just cannot be more grateful for that.
Honouring the team around him
OC: You mentioned earlier the difficulty of last year, quarantine, being off the ice, the monotony. What did you do to try and stay fresh – mentally and physically?
Brown: As athletes we're so used to routine, and we're so used to the consistency of what each day will bring. We know how to train and we know what our body needs to help us fuel. And we are so conditioned to the competition schedule.
[That got] completely turned over on its head last year.
When you're training, you're going to have ups and downs. Your body is going to go through peaks and valleys. You're going to feel strong one week and the next week you're pushing a little harder and your body breaks down a little bit and then you taper. I mean, there's so much that goes into it.
We found ourselves in this weird position where we were just having this block of training without any end goal that we were shooting for. And I think that it was really difficult. And there were definitely times where I would look at Tracy and said, ‘I just can't do this anymore. I don't know how to push my body. I don't I don't know how much more I can take’
So Tracy and I started to mix it up a bit. We started doing simulations at the rink, and days where I'd wear my costume and we'd mix up the schedule. We definitely made the most of it and learned to take it day by day and kind of plan things out in a different way.
I think another thing that was really difficult was we were limited for a period of time to only five people allowed on the ice at a time. You were skating with the same five people every single day. I didn't go to another rink until Vegas [in January]. That was like the first rink outside of the club that I skated at.
I was also surrounded by incredible athletes that were going through the same thing, that were also kind of struggling to like, ‘What's the end goal? Where are we going?’ And I think that it was difficult on all of us. But to have each other definitely made a huge difference and to go through it together was so incredibly crucial. And I couldn't make it through without them.