Highland Park-native (my hometown) Jason Brown, an Olympic figure skater, has gone viral with his exhilarating performance at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston. He also won a bronze medal in the team figure skating event on Sunday and will perform tomorrow in the individual event. Here’s his now-viral Nationals routine:
For my sports show, the HP Sports Brief, I had the chance to do an interview with Brown. Here are the first four parts:
And here’s my story on Brown’s sudden fame:
HIGHLAND PARK—Grasping his right leg with both hands, Jason Brown spun himself around at lightning speed, completed his move with a flourish, then grinned and triumphantly pointed to the TD Garden crowd as roses poured onto the ice following his free-skate routine at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston.
The 19-year-old’s face radiated pure joy as he held his hands to his face and took his bows. He could hardly believe it.
A few moments after leaving the ice, Brown was seated rinkside with his coach of 15 years, Kori Ade, When his personal-best free-skate score of 182.61 was announced, Brown reacted with genuine astonishment. The verdict was in: Brown had finished second to Jeremy Abbott, his elder of nine years and his dazzling free skate had earned him a spot on the U.S. Figure Skating team at the Olympics in Sochi.
18 days later, while on a break from his training in Colorado Springs, Brown sat in his home and reflected on his experience.
“When I finished my program, it was just that moment of, ‘I did it,’” the 2013 HPHS graduate recalled. “I’m standing in the middle of the ice, the crowd is on their feet, it’s just such a surreal moment. It’s something you envision and dream about. There’s nothing more a skater wants than to be in the middle of the rink with the audience on their feet. To hear the screams and the cheers is definitely something that I so wanted and so envisioned and so, when you actually live it, it’s really a dream come true.”
Since then, Brown has gone viral. His Nationals performance — highlighted by his signature “Riverdance” routine — has 3,691,232 views (and counting). And that staggering number has the Olympian on cloud nine.
“I freak out when I get 100 views, and my biggest YouTube that people have watched was like 8,000 views,” Brown said. “So the fact that it’s at 3 million-plus is just not real life!”
A visit to The Arsenio Hall Show, along with interviews with NPR and other national media outlets have added to his fame. And, by the way, Brown’s ponytail has its own Twitter account, with the handle @2014PonyPower. Some of the account’s tweets include: “Almost 3 mil. views on (Jason Brown’s) free skate at nationals. I bet at least a million of them were to see the pony [in] all of its river dance glory” and “Would there be an uproar from the crowd if Jason put me in a braid or anything other than a ponytail in Sochi?”
Brown was quite amused at having a Twitter account for his signature locks.
“One day I was looking through Twitter and one account said, ‘Jason’s ponytail.’” he recounted. “So I clicked on it and I was laughing so hard at the tweets. I was thinking, ‘Is this what my ponytail thinks? It definitely has an attitude.’”
Ponytail attitude notwithstanding, Brown clearly hasn’t forgotten his roots.
“I haven’t really gotten used to people [looking up to] me,” Brown reflected. “I don’t view myself like that. I just view myself as Jason Brown, the local kid from Highland Park with shaggy hair. That’s how I still perceive myself…I feel so lucky to be from Highland Park.”
Not only does Brown harbor fond memories of his hometown, but he noted that he often has flashbacks to skating at local Centennial Ice Arena— no matter how big the stage.
“I always look back and say, ‘Oh my gosh, look where I came from,’” he remarked. “These are my roots and this is where I came from and look how far I’ve come. I still feel like that same five-year old when I started skating at Centennial.”
And the Highland Park community has returned the love. Mayor Nancy Rotering declared February 7 “Jason Brown Day.” At HPHS, banners that read “Congrats and good luck Jason Brown, Class of 2013” festooned the school halls. Hearing about all of the support made Brown gush.
“What is that? It’s not real!,” he exclaimed. “I can’t even wrap my head around it. It means the world to me how supportive Highland Park is. It’s so, so surreal. That is definitely not something I would ever have imagined in my entire life, to have a day named after me.”
In just one stroll around downtown Highland Park, it’s evident that the rest of the city is backing its hometown Olympian as well. The marquee sign outside of the Highland Park Theatre on Central avenue read, “Good luck Jason Brown. HPHS 2013. Men’s Figure Skating. Sochi Olympics.” One block over, at the First Bank of Highland Park, the message board said, “Good luck Jason Brown.” There were also Jason Brown signs at Highland Pop and traffic signs around the city, just to name a few more. And let’s not forget the 10-foot ice sculpture of Brown standing tall in Port Clinton Square.
“It means the world to me,” he declared proudly. “I was raised in Highland Park and I’ve been there almost all my life, and to have the support of the community throughout the years, from when I was skating as a kid to now, it just means the world to me. I can’t even express how much that means to me.”
Reaching the Olympics also forced Brown to reflect on his budding professional career. Brown started skating at age five and what began as a simple interest has turned him into an Olympian and worldwide sensation.
“It really all started because I just loved to skate,” Brown remembered. “I didn’t look at it as, ‘this is something I’m going to do because I’m good at it or because I’m getting pushed to do it.’ It was always something I just loved to do and if I wanted to go to the rink, my parents took me to the rink and if I wanted to stay home, they’d be okay. It was always something that — being at Highland Park and being at Centennial with my coach, Kori— she just harnessed my love for the sport. And she’s just a huge inspiration to be and I still feel like that five-year old every time I step on the ice, that much joy and that much passion. That’s what really inspires me: that I love to do it.”