Jason Brown: “Figure skating is much more than just jumping”
Interview with Jason Brown for Russian media. About development of figure skating and its artistic side, Jason also told how he sought permission from Evgenia Medvedeva to meet her at the Toronto airport, why he was greatly upset by the criticism of Alexei Yagudin, told how he made his way to the group of Brian Orser, despite initial rejection.
source: gazeta.ru dd. 15th July by Elvira Ondar
The first time you asked Brian Orser, he did not take you to the group.
Jason Brown: Yes, I remember this moment (laughs).
Jason Brown: I texted Brian and asked if I could start training in Toronto.
We agreed on a date on which I was supposed to come and skate, but a month later he texted me: “I’m very sorry, we just don’t have enough space for you at the rink, there are too many skaters.”
I replied, “Okay, it’s fine, but I’ve already bought tickets and found a place to live. Maybe I’ll just come to skate for a week? ” This was not planned as a try-out, but simply as an internship. Luckily for me, Brian said, “Ok.”
I came, skated, worked with several coaches and, you might say, leaked into this group (laughs). I am very lucky that they liked the way I skate. They came up to me and said that I could stay if I wanted to. It was insanely exciting!
And now you work in Toronto with three coaches – Brian Orser, Tracy Wilson and Karen Preston.
Jason Brown: Yes! This is a great trio. Tracy is my head coach, she appreciates my artistry and tries to bring my skating to the next level. Karen has a brilliant mind in terms of technical elements – she helps me to understand all the nuances of technique that this trio wants to implement in my jumps.
Brian is great at everything. In my career, he is like a general manager. He has experienced everything in sports at the highest level – as an athlete and as a coach – and broadcasts his vision to me and shares subtle moments … And he is also good in times of crisis.
You said that Tracy Wilson and Brian Orser changed your technique on every triple jump. Why were so many fixes needed?
Jason Brown: Figure skating has changed dramatically in recent Olympic cycles. Now skaters need to perform their jumps efficiently rather than spectacularly. A giant height and long traveling are no longer needed so much.
You have to enter the jump faster, start spinning immediately, do it at a higher pace – this is what we are working on. I really like the way I perform rotations now. I rely on the strength that I create when I gradually prepare to a jump, and then I kinda explode and start to rotate. We were working on this “explosion” moment, where I have to take off the ice and enter the rotation as fast as I can. Everything should be fast, clean, efficient.
Are you spending less energy performing jumps now?
Jason Brown: That’s it!
And does it help you to perform quads?
Jason Brown: Yes, it helps a lot. These are positive changes in technique that greatly influence my performances.
Your best season with Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson is 2019/20. Then you won silver at the Skate America Grand Prix, Nationals and Four Continents. How did you come to this success – without quads back then?
Jason Brown: That was exciting! When I first arrived in Toronto, Tracy and Brian told me that it would take 18 months to adapt. “Give yourself a year and a half, be patient.” They adjusted my technique, tried to introduce something new and kept repeating: “18 months, 18 months.” I went through many ups and downs before I got to these successes.
I felt that I was making progress, getting used to the new technique, I felt an adrenaline rush. But then I came to the competitions and it seemed that my body had simply forgotten everything (laughs). And I’m like, “What’s going on ?!”
I had to go through a lot of changes, and it is not so easy to start doing such experiments at the age of 23. But thanks to the difficulties I was able to make progress faster. I had difficult conversations with Tracy and Brian in tense situations, and it helped us build a stronger bond.
It was simply incredible for me to take two silver medals in a row – at the US Nationals and Four Continents. Everything we worked on really began to give results not only in training, but also in competitions!
After that, I really realized that I was capable of more, that I really can achieve everything that we strive for. And it happened exactly after the 18 month mark! It was very exciting to see this come true.
You said that Yuzuru Hanyu from time to time liked to give you advice in training. Did he also help you with the quads?
Jason Brown: Brian, Tracy and Karen think that we all should learn from each other, so sometimes they advised to look how Yuzu pushes off for some element or how he saves some jumps. Sometimes Yuzu himself also encouraged me – after all, we skated and developed side by side. After some jump, he could say “Wow, this is much better!” or “Pay attention to the air position.”
Yuzu gave me little advice or praise like that. It really helped a lot because he is incredible and getting support from him is great. This motivated all of us to keep working even harder.
Some coaches criticize you for beating their athletes without clean quadruple jumps. Olympic champion Alexei Yagudin, commenting on your performances on Russian television, also often condemned the absence of quads in your programs. How do you feel about such criticism?
Jason Brown: Yes, I’ve heard about it. It’s a pity about Yagudin’s statements. Many skaters from my circle considered Alexei to be an example from childhood. We grew up during the years he competed and were big fans of him.
It’s hard to read how Yagudin assess you, says whether you are good enough to be in this sport, discusses whether you have worked hard enough to progress. Yes, it’s frustrating. A little.
But to be honest, I don’t focus on that. I am totally focused on becoming a better athlete. And I’m working hard on it. And not only on the artistic part.
I really work to the limit of my abilities and give all my strength to stabilize quadruple jumps and become a technically perfect skater.
So yes, I admit that Yagudin’s statements made me upset. I don’t know if he understands how much energy it takes me to work on quads. And these are not just some attempts – I really work hard to get stronger and better.
In my opinion, it is a bit limited thinking to think that men’s single skating is determined only by the presence of quadruple jumps. Because figure skating is a sport where you need to show a memorable performance and try to become a versatile athlete.
In my opinion, it makes no sense to assess a skater by only one aspect of this sport and to look at him only through the prism of quadruple jumps.
Figure skating is rich in a huge number of elements. Most of them are jumps, but we have so many other opportunities to earn points so to downgrade all other elements, as Alexei does …
Of course, I cannot speak for him, and I think that he has the right to speak out as he wants. But I still think that figure skating is much more than just jumping.
And I want no young skater to grow up with the fear that if he does not learn a certain jump, he will not be worthy of success in figure skating, that there will be no place for him in this sport. Such thoughts are lies.
All children who work incredibly hard deserve a chance to succeed. And they should develop in all aspects, even if they fail with some kind of jump.
There are kids who love to glide, they love to interpret music and show an artistic image like me. And I want to prove by my example that if you work hard and improve your strengths, you can achieve success in figure skating.
And you are already such an example, Jason.
Jason Brown: Oh-oh-oh, thanks!
You know, at some point of my career I had to deal with psychological problems. I tried to regain my confidence and make sure there was a place for me in figure skating. At such moments, I had thoughts that if I cannot perform some elements, then I have no chance of success or that I am not good enough for this sport.
But it was important for me to keep working every day to find my place in figure skating. And now I want to become a voice for people who are trying to do the same.
In recent years, ISU has made a number of changes to the rules: the scale of bonuses (Grade of execution – GOE) has been expanded from +3 to +5, so now you get more bonuses for high-quality elements. Also, the value of some quadruple jumps was reduced, the duration of the men’s free program was reduced … How does all this affect the sport, in your opinion?
Jason Brown: I really like the new -5 to +5 GOE scale because it emphasizes on the quality of the elements. My goal in competitions is always to show a memorable program, an impressive performance, to touch the feelings of people, to make them think about something after the performance. I really love to tell stories, and my favorite part of figure skating is performance.
I know that over the years the technical side of this sport has evolved a lot and attracted more and more attention compared to the artistic side. So now I really appreciate that ISU began to appreciate the expressive part of the program, as well as how well the skater performs his program. I think this is great for the development of the sport and gives chances to many skaters who might not be able to compete with opponents who are strong in technique.
These changes reward well-rounded skaters who can earn +5 on each of their elements and perform beautifully. They can use the rules that ISU has created to make the most of their strengths. Now they, too, can achieve success in figure skating, and it is very pleasant to watch their skating. At the same time, of course, you shouldn’t stop working on your mistakes and weaknesses.
The quads revolution really continues, despite the new rules, and quads are gradually becoming the norm even for girls – especially in Russia.
Jason Brown: Yes, it’s incredible! Figure skating is developing in technique and I think that’s great too. This is sport and the technical part is incredibly important, but at the same time we have an artistic aspect and no part should be discounted.
You were close friends with Evgenia Medvedeva when she trained at the Cricket Club. You both joined Brian Orser in the summer of 2018 after working with other coaches for years, which is psychologically challenging. Did you support each other in this situation?
Jason Brown: Yes, it was so.
Our friendship with Evgenia helped me a lot. We both experienced the same situation: we were with the same coach for a long time, suddenly decided to completely change our lives, moved to a completely new place for ourselves … And we helped each other go through all this – it was easier together. We learned a lot from each other, and this brought us very close.
It was you who met Evgenia at the airport when she first come to Toronto.
Jason Brown: I knew that Evgenia was going to come – I saw an article that soon she would be in Toronto, and I thought: “Oh my God! She will be here soon, just like me!” Thought she might need help. I asked Evgenia when she arrives, we talked, and I said: “I want to meet you!”.
She replied: “No, don’t.” Apparently she wanted to call a taxi. But I didn’t give up: “Let me meet you! You are moving with a bunch of things from Russia! Just let me give you a ride. I want to see a familiar face and can help to settle down.”
I was very excited when I first met Evgenia in Toronto and saw her mother. We were starting a new chapter in our life, and it was very emotional. I was absolutely happy that I was able to share this experience with her.
Evgenia said that you helped her in many ways and even taught her to pronounce some words in English.
Jason Brown: Yes (laughs)! Her English is great, but she is always eager to learn something new. And I tried to help her – for example, in the pronunciation of some words. I said: “I understand everything you say perfectly. But if you want to pronounce it perfectly, then we say it like this. However, you can pronounce it as before: I perfectly understand the meaning.” If I allowed myself any comments, it was constructive criticism and only with good intentions.
And we both enjoyed it because Evgenia was really determined to improve her English, and I have always sincerely tried to help her work on her pronunciation and increase her active vocabulary.
You also know Japanese, and Evgenia also studied this language. Did you practice it too?
Jason Brown: Sometimes it happened! Evgenia is great at learning languages. This is more her sphere than mine – it seemed to me that she was teaching me (laughs). Her English is much better than my Russian could ever be. Evgenia is beautiful. And she is talented in a huge variety of different fields.
For a while, you also studied the same quadruple – salchow. And in your interview in 2019, you said that you and Evgenia are even racing about this.
Jason Brown: Yes, you know, it was such a friendly competition (laughs). We had the same goal. First, we competed who would land the clean quadruple salchow faster in training. Then we could have competed in who will do it in the competitions. We could always change the conditions of the race a little – so we motivated each other to develop.
Evgenia put a sticker with the words “Beijing-2022” on the glass of your car. A reminder of another common goal?
Jason Brown: Yes! And I still keep it.
Besides figure skating, do you continue to study in college?
Jason Brown: Yes, I study communications. This is my main discipline, and within its framework I have many more subjects – for example, sociology, psychology, criminal law.
In recent years, the problem of racism has been actively raised in the United States. Do you study these kinds of questions in college?
Jason Brown: Yes, that’s right. This problem is what pushes me to put even more efforts in education and especially in the study of criminal law, to learn more about what is happening and why, and how we generally ended up in such a situation.
You supported the Black Lives Matter movement on social media. Have you participated in any protests or demonstrations?
Jason Brown: Unfortunately, no, I did not participate in the marches. This should not be an excuse, but I regularly see my grandparents in the US and would not want to increase their risk of contracting the coronavirus. So I try to speak out in other ways. However, I support people demonstrating against racism and in support of Black Lives Matter – I am completely on their side.
People were killed during the wave of protests that took place in the United States. For example, there was information that in Chicago, where you lived for a long time, there were people killed. Was the situation really that dire?
Jason Brown: This is a difficult question. What was happening was terrible and chaotic. We watched the news every night.
I think there are a lot of things that we really paid attention to at that moment. We were literally forced to open our eyes and see what problems exist and what is happening. Forced to face injustice and inequality. Look closely at each other and ask: “What did we do to prevent this? How have we helped?”
We must try to become better as people. Yes, it is a pity that terrible things sometimes happened during the riots. It was scary. Although I personally live outside the city and did not feel a threat to myself. I was not attacked.
And I hope that we can stand together to face of this problem and help the humanity – help to achieve equality in the world. For me this is the most important thing in my life. Everyone deserves equal treatment.
You are from a Jewish family. Your people have also experienced severe discrimination, and your free program to the music from Schindler’s List is dedicated to this topic. Is that also one of the reasons why racist issues are of particular concern to you?
Jason Brown: Quite right. I grew up knowing about the Holocaust. This is a huge part of my history, the history of my ancestors. Then there was discrimination and ethnic killings. After such events, it seems to me that in the 21st century we should be at a higher stage of development as a society than we are now.
I am very lucky: I feel that I can be free, I can achieve success in sports openly – as a Jewish guy – and this has not always been possible in history, as you know. And we must continue to fight for individual rights and freedoms and to achieve equality for all people.
Your program to the Schindler’s List is closely related to the events of World War II. You must have plunged very deeply into this topic?
Jason Brown: Yes, I read a lot about those events – I grew up reading books and learning more and more about the Second World War. We also covered this topic in school, but I think there is a lot more information to learn. This can be studied for years!
There are so many human stories and so many points of view on what happened … I always try to understand this better and better understand the events of those years.
I heard that in the USA they teach that it was America who defeated Germany in World War II. Having studied the history of those events, do you completely agree with this?
Jason Brown: I think we can assume that this is true. Although this is a certain perception – from its own angle. At school, you look at all the events and study them from the point of view of the United States. It’s like looking at a darkened mirror in which you see some particular things brighter.
Traveling is your main hobby. Did you manage to travel around Russia?
Jason Brown: Yes! I have been to Sochi twice and have traveled a little around the city. I was also in Moscow – I spent a few days after the Grand Prix stage. That was incredible. But for now, this is where my experience of traveling in Russia ends.
I really hope that I will get to St. Petersburg. Russia is an insanely beautiful country with a very rich culture and history, and I can’t wait to be able to return there again.
I really love travelling and use the miles I have accumulated flying to competitions to visit other countries while on vacation. And I try to learn more about each one, thoroughly get acquainted with the local culture.
If we talk about the Sochi Olympics, I remember you also admitted that you liked skating with Evgeni Plushenko. Do you follow his coaching career now?
Jason Brown: Honestly, I do not follow him closely, I do not know in detail what he does. But, of course, I have been a big fan of him since childhood. And it really was a special moment – to be in Sochi on the same arena and compete with him. We ended up in the same warm-up in the team event, and my head just exploded, I thought: “God, this is some kind of fantasy!”.
I watched Plushenko perform for many years, he had a very long career. I hope he will be a great coach and build a great skating community in Russia for the next generation of kids.
You said that the program to the song “Love is a Bitch” is a reminder for you that love is sometimes “an annoying, painful thing.”
Jason Brown: Yes! This program seemed to reveal the other side in me – the passive-aggressive one. There was a dangerous fire in it that reminded me that sometimes love really hurts and even annoys. It was such view into the depths of this feeling, which revealed a little its negative, angry side.
You talk a lot about your family, friends, but nothing about your personal life. did you decide to carefully defend this part of your story?
Jason Brown: Yes, you know, there is a mix of reasons for this. I myself need to understand who I am before letting people into this part of my life.
It’s like opening an onion. The older I get, the more I learn about myself and the more I open to people who I really am. I let more people into my story, into my path – both as an athlete and a as person. I still continue to learn myself, develop, read, understand, learn and each layer of my life is gradually revealed.
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