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Skater Brown comes to Sochi Olympics with new renown

SOCHI, Russia – Two hours after Jason Brown finished the brilliant free skate at last month’s U.S. Championships that would put him on the 2014 Olympic team, his younger brother delivered the big news.

“You have 100,000 views on YouTube,” Dylan Brown, 15, told him.

Jason laughed, figuring his brother was kidding.   After all, none of his previous skating performances ever got more than 8,000 views.

“And I freak out at that number,” said the figure skater from Highland Park.

A few hours later, a friend texted to tell Jason he was trending on Twitter, and there were 500,000 views.  Two days later, it was over a million.

And the YouTube count when Brown finished a Friday afternoon practice at the Iceberg Arena?  3,548,425.

(There actually are more, if you count the various posts of the performance.  As a comparison, Gracie Gold’s winning long program at nationals has some 253,000 in its most-viewed post.)

“It is exciting to watch it grow,” Brown said, ``and it is so surreal and means so much to me that people got invested in watching.”

Imagine how many will be watching when Brown performs in the Olympics, where he is to compete in the team event free skate Sunday and in the singles event that opens next Thursday.

Brown, 19, who moved his training base to Colorado after graduating from Highland Park High School 13 months ago, is becoming the most popular skater in the United States.  The joy he expresses and audience appeal he creates in the upbeat program to music from Riverdance clearly have captivated millions.

A ponytail that some hidebound U.S. Figure Skating officials once advised him to dump has made him more recognizable to a public that likely had no idea who he was a month ago.  He is giving the sport an audience it badly needs.

Brown said members of the Texas A&M diving team recently approached him in an airport and said, ``Omigosh, you’re Jason Brown!  We have seen your video so many times.”

He added that Bill Whelan, Grammy-winning composer of the Riverdance music, wrote him congratulations.  So did the Riverdance cast. 

“It’s such a huge honor, the amount of people who have reached out to me saying they weren’t skating fans and now they are,’’ Brown said.  ``It means so much that so many people are coming up to me and having some connection.”

Some of the new fans may be let disappointed to learn that although Brown won the free skate at nationals and finished second overall, he is not yet seen as an Olympic medal contender.  The lack of both a quadruple jump and his relative inexperience at the senior international level leave him at a distinct disadvantage compared to most of the top skaters in the field, even if Evan Lysacek won the 2010 Olympic gold without a quad.

Brown, who arrived in Sochi Thursday after several days training in Germany, brought a nice chunk of that fan base with him: 18 family members.

He is unconcerned there will be few of his YouTube followers in what is expected to be a predominantly Russian crowd here.

“It makes me more excited,” he said.  “I want to give them a performance that makes them Jason Brown, USA fans.  I don’t look at that as daunting or scary.”


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