Jason Brown captures first-of-its-kind virtual figure skating event

A digital-first figure skating event in the U.S. joins the collection of global competitions that are bringing athletes together -- virtually. Could this be the way of the future? 

By Nick McCarvel

With skaters competing at separate rinks across North America via video submissions, figure skating officially waded into the virtual sporting world on Friday night with the Peggy Fleming Trophy.

2014 Olympic team bronze medallist and 2015 U.S. champion Jason Brown turned in a stirring performance with "Melancholy" by Alexey Kosenko (choreographed by Rohene Ward) to capture the title in what was a hybrid event of competition-meets-exhibition.

Skaters taped their programs and sent them in for Friday’s broadcast, shown on US Figure Skating’s digital platforms. While the event could prove as a testing ground for sanctioned ISU events – including the to-be-announced fall Grand Prix Series – skaters in the event were allowed to re-do their programs and submit their highest-quality skate.

Brown said "Melancholy" is one of two short programs he's choreographed for the coming season. The Peggy Fleming Trophy, judged by a panel of remote officials, honed in on artistry and overall presentation. Brown was seamless in his performance, skated with his usual command of the ice and connection to the music.

Decisive Brown

Brown scored a 129.20 total in the three-minute, 30-minute program, a mix between the short program and free skate. He finished nearly nine points ahead of second-place skater Andrew Torgashev at 120.59. Timothy Dolensky placed third at 119.53.

In the mixed-gender event that featured 17 American skaters, 2018 Olympian Karen Chen came in seventh while former U.S. junior champion Courtney Hicks was sixth.

Other notables included: Tomoki Hiwatashi, the 2019 world junior champion, in fourth; Emmanuel Savary fifth; and Camden Pulkinen, also a former U.S. junior champ, 10th.

The way of the future?

Speaking to the Olympic Channel earlier this week, Brown said he could see the possibility of using virtual, digital-first events in lieu of in-person competitions if the COVID-19 pandemic persists.

“Unprecedented times call for unprecedented events,” said the Toronto-based skater, who trains under 1988 Olympic champion Brian Orser alongside two-time Olympic gold medallist Hanyu Yuzuru and 2018 silver medallist Evgenia Medvedeva.

Added Chen, who was fourth at Worlds in 2017: “Depending on how everything pans out, this format could potentially be implemented to other competitions,” she said. “However, I believe that there would have to be a significant amount of trial and error to find what not only works best for everyone, but also the fairest.”

“I do think that for the Grand Prixs it would be ideal for skaters to have the pressure of knowing that they have one shot and one shot only to send in their short and long,” added Brown in regard to no do-overs. “Maybe even designating a specific time and day that a skater needs to ‘compete.’ Also, there would need to be some sort of live part of the event (whether one judge is watching live/virtually).”

The ISU is expected to release its Grand Prix plans – the six Series stops this fall, as well as the scheduled Grand Prix Final in Beijing in December – the first week of August. Earlier this week, the ISU said both the Cup of China and Grand Prix Final were still set to be held despite China cancelling international sporting events for the remainder of the year.

Should that change, the Peggy Fleming Trophy could be one of the first testing grounds for skating to go global without asking skaters to leave their home rinks.