SOCHI, Russia — The Ponytail knows no fear. Jitters, yes. Fear, no.
Jason Brown doesn’t know any better. There’s really no other explanation for what he has done the last month and what he has done at the Winter Olympics. You’re not supposed to rise this quickly in the figure-skating world, and certainly you’re not supposed to be having this much fun in the face of so much pressure. This is supposed to be nerve-racking stuff, what with the whole world watching and all.
But from the tip of his brown ponytail to the jagged toe of his skate, the 19-year-old Highland Park kid obviously loves the attention.
He skated dead last Friday night, which means he had everybody’s attention. Most people’s worst nightmare was his idea of the time of his life.
“It’s so exciting,’’ he said. “Everything leading up to it, you kind of know what’s going on, and to feed off that energy … I wanted to close the Olympic event with a bang and just do what I do every day and have fun.’’
He finished ninth but won over a lot of people in the process, just as he has over the last year.
He had stunned the Olympics by finishing sixth in the short program Thursday, giving him a real shot at a bronze medal. But he stumbled on a triple jump and had a few other slips.
At Friday’s free skate, he performed the same program — set to “Reel Around the Sun” from “Riverdance” — that he had used at the U.S. Championships. Smart move, kid. As of Friday night, there were almost four million views on YouTube of the skate from last month. All that without a quadruple jump in his repertoire.
It speaks to his showmanship but also, perhaps, to the state of men’s figure skating. The typical routine has two elements: huge jumps and, in the spectator seats, a lot of impatient toe tapping during the buildup between them. Brown has managed to make those gaps matter, with footwork, spins and an unbridled joy that crowds have plugged into. He has made artistry just as important as athleticism.
Where does it come from?
“I love to dance, I love music,’’ he said. “I want to attribute it to my sister. We put on shows when I was 2, 3, 4, 5 years old — we would dance and sing around the kitchen and the living room. That’s where it really began. I got so comfortable in my body.’’
Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu won the gold medal, even though he fell twice. After his program, he put his hands on the ice, thinking he had blown it. But this is figure skating, where what you see isn’t always what you get.
Falls were one of the storylines of the evening. The 15 skaters who went before Brown each had a quad in their planned programs. Many of them struggled, but Brown couldn’t take advantage of it. Canada’s Patrick Chan got the silver, and Kazakhstan’s Denis Ten took bronze.
“I went out there, and I had fun,’’ Brown said. “That was my main goal.
“I’ve worked so hard all year, and I just wanted to perform the program. I definitely had some slips, as you may have seen, but the performance was there.’’
Brown is not the first skater to be successful without a quadruple jump in his arsenal. Naperville’s Evan Lysacek won the gold medal at the 2010 Olympics without one.
When a shoulder injury kept Lysacek out of this year’s U.S. Championships, it gave Brown his big Olympic chance — and a lot of new fans, thanks to YouTube.
He seems to rise to the occasion. American Jeremy Abbott, the more-experienced skater, crashed spectacularly in his short program, and Brown found himself where he hadn’t been before. He didn’t seem daunted by the moment a bit. And he wasn’t. His body just let him down.
Heading into the long program, a little more than a point separated third place from eighth place, an incredibly small number in figure skating. But Brown needed to be great. And he wasn’t.
He said he’s working on a quad. If he can get that, he and his ponytail will be formidable in four years.
“It’s really exciting to know what I’ve been able to do without the quad,’’ he said. “That’s a huge confidence builder and a huge excitement about what can happen in the future.’’