In face of injury, Brown puts positivity to the test2015 U.S. champion's unflagging determination pays dividends in the end
When Jason Brown took the ice at the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, he wasn't at his best. A stress fracture to his right fibula had derailed his training for more than six weeks. He resumed practicing triple flips and triple lutzes five days before his short program, and triple axels three days after that. The quadruple toe loops and quad salchows he was landing in practices earlier in the season were off the table.
During a teleconference the week before the event, the 2015 U.S. champion estimated he was at 80 percent strength, at best. Last season, a back injury made it impossible for him to compete at the U.S. championships. This time, he wanted to try for one of the two men's spots the U.S. had at the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki, Finland.
An exuberant and unfailingly upbeat athlete, Brown felt it was time to put his positivity to the test.
"I try to look at each moment not only as a learning experience for me but I hope to inspire kids," Brown said.
"This is an opportunity to live that -- to not only speak it but to walk in the steps," he added. "It's about doing what you can do in the moment. . . . (I want) to inspire kids and skaters not to have loss of ego or pride if you're not 100 percent. It's time to compete. Time is moving whether you're ready for it or not."
Brown's spins and "in between" moves -- steps, spirals, split jumps -- are considered among the sport's finest. But to finish in the medals and be nominated for the world team, he would need to land triple axels and triple-triple combinations on his injured right leg.
"I don't know what he's going to do when he competes," Brown's coach, Kori Ade, said in Kansas City. "I do know his skating quality is unlike anyone else's. When he executes something, he executes it with quality, and that doesn't change because of the injury."
In the run-up to the U.S. championships, Brown's jumping was limited, but he ran his programs as hard as his injury would allow.
"It was, 'Footwork, footwork, footwork -- run it again, let's go,'" his choreographer, Rohene Ward, said. "We ran spins, making sure the positions were exactly where they needed to be. I really admire him; he came to Kansas City and said, 'Hey, this is what I've got, this is where I am.'"
Brown missed his triple axel and sat fourth after his short program, some 8.62 points out of third place. In his free skate two days later, he hit two of the best triple axels of his career to capture the bronze medal behind Nathan Chen, who landed a record five quads in his free skate, and 16-year-old Vincent Zhou, who landed two. Judges recognized Brown's maturity and skating skills with the highest program component scores of the event.
"I feel like I learn so much more from performances like this, where you have to push beyond what you think you are capable of doing," Brown said after his free skate. "(I'm) super excited I was able to put something commendable out there. I think moving forward it's just another level to what I know I'm capable of doing."
U.S. Figure Skating's International Selection Committee chose Chen and Brown for the 2017 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships and world championships, and nominated Zhou for the world junior championships. Zhou's inexperience in international senior competition -- he had not yet posted a required minimum free skate technical score -- may have played a role in the decision.
But Brown's "Get Up" mentality made it possible.
"I gave it the best I could," Brown said, adding, "I leave this event knowing the leg is going to be at 100 percent after this week, and I can continue to get stronger."
Fear can't stop Torgashev
Chen and Zhou weren't the only teenagers to land quads in Kansas City. At age 15, Andrew Torgashev hit a solid quad toe loop in his free skate en route to an 11th-place finish and a spot on the world junior team set to compete in Taipei City in March.
"You have to train [the quad] the same as any jump," Torgashev said. "I get that it's going to be a rough road -- there are going to be good tries and bad tries -- but you have to keep on going."
Landing quads is a milestone for any skater, especially Torgashev. In June 2015, four months after winning the U.S. junior title at age 13 with a record-breaking score, the Florida teen launched into a quad toe, landed wrong and broke his right ankle. Surgery in Miami was followed by months of endless therapy, swimming sessions and twice daily trips to the gym.
Torgashev, who trains in Coral Springs, was off the ice for months. When he returned, he focused on improving his skating skills, including edges, stroking and speed. Last summer, he restarted training a quad -- the salchow. After a period of time, though, he returned -- warily, at first -- to the toe.
"There is a little PTSD on the toe, because I remember vividly how I broke my ankle," he said. "One day I just thought, 'Ok, I'll try toe on the harness today,' and it went really well. I know that if I want to be at the top of this sport, I need to do it. Of course, I didn't land it the first time, but after a lot of tries and being persistent and patient, I was able to do it and eventually get it consistent."
Injuries are a concern for any athlete, but Torgashev thinks he's learned how to balance jump repetitions with safety. Part of the equation is listening to Artem Torgashev, his father and coach.
"An injury could happen, but it's less likely now that I'm stronger in my ankle, and body," Andrew said. "My dad teaches me the (jump) technique, so before I try it, I can't just rotate it and hope for the best, because that's how I got injured in the first place."
Leading into Kansas City, Torgashev worked with his choreographers, mom Ilona Melnichenko and Scott Brown, to polish his programs, with an eye also on junior worlds. He placed 10th at the event in 2015.
"We're really trying to add more character into the programs," he said. "My skating skills have improved, since I worked a lot on them when I wasn't able to jump during my injury."
Torgashev's short, set to music from Notre-Dame de Paris, tells his personal "Get Up" story.
"It's about (how) the whole world is coming to an end, but the cathedrals are still standing," he said. "It's kind of my way of saying I'll never be put down, I'll always stand, no matter what the circumstances."