This right here, Jason trusting there’s so much more he can offer to the world of skating, was the exact motivator of his coaching change last summer; of him leaving a world of familiarities and dive into unknown.
And there you have him now, embarked on a journey that still feels uncomfortable every day (“in a good way, but still”) – and fully committing to that change.
And though this interview, this candid, open talk, happened at the end of his first successful event this season – Jason took silver at Internationaux de France, leading after the short program in Grenoble – this is not about medals, results, but, once again, about the process.
The anatomy of change, if you allow the similarities.
You’ll hear him say: “Every step of the way is experience gain”, “It’s new and it’s different”, “There’s so much I’m getting used to” – but also “I’m not gonna say it’s easy”.
And you’ll see him strong, resilient, determined: “I’m gonna keep trying to integrate the changes. Time and time and time again, I’m gonna try and go out there, and learn, and grow, and adapt”.
For a better understanding of the process, do read Brian Orser’s take as well on what it’s like to drop old habits and create new ones when it comes to experienced skaters, and all the energy, the time involved.
And you know what?
This detailed interview, with highs and lows, and smiles, and seriousness, and introspection, is almost like a trademark Jason program: full of transitions, spirals, Ina Bauers.
A thorough, intricate analysis, like a display of skating skills.
by Nadia Vasilyeva/Grenoble
Nadia Vasilyeva: Jason, congratulations on your amazing performance and silver medal here in France. The beginning of the season was kind of a rocky road for you – how does it feel to be back on the podium?
Jason Brown: You know, it’s really exciting and I’m really pleased, but, at the same time, I have a really long road ahead of me. And my sights are set on this journey – the 2022. For me, Tracy and Brian – that is our goal, that’s what we are looking towards.
And I wanna do it right, and I wanna take the time to do it right.
With all the technical changes, and everything that they’re throwing at me – I’m trying my best to just adapt and do it. And I don’t really go half-way, I’m an all-into-it person.
As you could see at the beginning of the season, I really was struggling with it. Even if I get [the new technique] for like a second or two in practice, when you get to the competition it’s a whole different ball game, when you have the adrenaline and all the extra nerve. And that does different things to your body, and then I’m kinda fighting the technique, I wanna do what’s comfortable. It is really challenging, and it’s something I’ve been struggling with at the beginning of the season.
But to be here, at this third event, and to walk away with a Grand Prix medal – I’m really, really pleased with that. And I’m really happy with my personal best short program, and I actually think it was my personal best free program of this year as well.
But, beyond that, I just have this hunger to get back home and keep working, because I know there’s so much more that I’m capable of. I’m barely scratching the surface when it comes to their [Brian and Tracy’s] technique. It’s just been 5 months, and I’m determined to master it 100%.
So having in mind that it will take time, did you expect this success to come this early in the season?
No! To be honest – no! I don’t wanna say I didn’t expect it as much as I wasn’t – I was so focused on the process.
And I’ve never been so focused on the day-to-day work. When it comes to competition [in the past] I was like: “This is what I wanna get, I wanna get on the podium, and everything”. But this is the first year when I’m like: “I have no idea what’s gonna happen”. In the sense of that there’s so much change going on, and so much that I’m getting used to.
So I just take it day by day, kind of keep figuring out the technique. Every practice I get on I’d be like: “I can’t wait to work through this. I can’t wait to figure this out”.
So coming to this event, especially after my first two events – you know, getting 4th at my Senior B, and 6th at Skate Canada… I was 11th in the short program, and it was such a… [he winces]
But I’m a fighter! And I was determined to come here and keep fighting and keep figuring it out. I’m pleased to come back with a medal.
Like some people say – it’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity.
Exactly! That’s really how I look at it. Right now especially. Every single step of the way is experience gain. It’s something I’m excited to grow and learn from.
I can’t wait to sit down with Brian and Tracy and: what were the good things, what were the bad things, what I want to improve, what was really going through my head. Being with such new coaches…
You know, Kori [Ade, Jason’s former coach] and I were like on the same wavelength. We knew exactly what each other were thinking. We could have conversations with our eyes, that’s how connected we were. And with Tracy and Brian – at this moment, it’s just new and there is that bit of disconnect, we all are trying to get to know each other.
Sometimes it happens that a coach and a student become more like friends than actually a coach and a student. Is that what happened?
Exactly. Kori was always family. I was with her since I was 5. She was like my second mum. So that’s why it was so much more difficult for me to leave.
With that being said, I think it’s just a very, very different relationship I have with Brian and Tracy than I had with Kori. And the relationship that I have with Kori is only gonna be with Kori. Brian and Tracy are never gonna be like my parents [smiling]. Especially coming to them at 23. I come to them as an adult, and I’m treated as an adult, and our relationship is very student-coach based.
So in order to move forward, you need a different dynamic?
Yeah, I little bit. I think I really needed change. I don’t wanna say anything specific, like I needed a different dynamic, or different perspective, but it’s all kind of in its entirety.
I knew that I have more to give to the sport. I’m still scratching the surface of my potential, and I knew that I can give so much more technically and push myself so much more artistically. But I knew that in order to do that I needed the change.
And it was so hard, ’cause I love Kori. And I still love Kori, and it’s been so nice that she’s been here [in Grenoble, at Internationaux de France]. So I’ve gotten to see her a little bit and I love that.
And it’s hard, and it’s difficult, but I knew that if I wanted to break into that next year, I needed to make a change.
When was it that you realized that you needed this change?
I think when I realized and had the courage to do it was really after the heartbreak of last season and not making the Olympic team, and really taking a step back to realize what was going on and what was happening.
But I think there was a build-up to that. I knew deep down inside that I needed change for a little bit. But it’s hard ’cause you don’t know what’s gonna happen, you don’t know what the outcome’s gonna be with the change.
And Kori and I are so close, and it’s something that I’m noticing now, even though it’s been 5 months – I’m still uncomfortable every day. In a good way, but still. It’s been 5 months with Brian and Tracy [at the moment of the interview, in November – Ed.], but I’m still pushing through all these changes.
That being said, you gotta find the right time to do it, when it fits best for you, when you know you’re ready. So for me, I guess, unfortunately it happened right after my kind of breaking point at US Championships. But I’m forever grateful for the resilience that it has taught me, and I’m so much stronger and more determined than ever before.
“WE WANT YOU TO COME”
Of all other options, why did you choose Brian and Tracy?
To be honest, it really just sort of… ended happening? [smiling]
And I’ll explain this.
I reached to a bunch of coaches. For most of March, April and May we were doing try-outs. We were doing “Stars on Ice” shows on the weekends, in the US, and on the weekdays I would go and I would try out with different coaches.
When I wrote Brian, originally, I said: “Hey, I would love to try… like to try out. I’m making a coaching change, and if you have any time, and if you have any interest, I would love to come to Toronto”. So we kind of set something up. About a month later, he wrote me back and said: “I don’t think I can take you on”. And I said: “No worries, but I already booked the flights. So is it okay if I still come and just skate there for a week?” And he was like: “Absolutely, of course”.
And when I got there, he put me into working with a couple of the coaches that are on his staff. And we overlapped one day, Brian and I, at the rink. He worked with me for about 40 minutes. And I worked with Tracy, and I skated for four days there – no intention of moving, I didn’t even look at it as a possibility because he said it looks unlikely. We didn’t even sit down and talk about moving – nothing.
So I left, and the day I left the coaches were saying: “Oh, my God, we’re really pulling for you”. And then other coaches were like: “We’re really putting in a good word, we really like working with you, we hope you come back”. And I was like: “What is going on? This isn’t a try-out!”
But I loved them and they were so nice.
So the try-outs continued, and “Stars on Ice” continued, and when I was kind of getting ready for the last few try-outs I wrote Tracy and Brian and just said: “Hey, I just wanna make sure. I’m going through a pros and cons list – and is this even on the table? Like, I just wanna make sure I don’t pass it, that it’s not something I don’t even consider when I should have, that I misunderstood…”
And I wrote to them on Friday, and Tracy wrote to me and said: “We’ll get back to you on Monday”. And on Monday, Brian and Tracy called me from their office and they were like: “We want you to come”.
And I was like: “What? But I have other try-outs and…”, “No-no-no, you’re coming, we made it work, we really want you here, we’re really excited”.
I was just stunned. Like, it wasn’t even an option. I didn’t even have time to make the pros and cons list. It wasn’t like they said: “Hey, you can consider it”. It was just like: “Come”. I was like: “Okay, I finish the rest of my try-outs and…”, “No need. We’d love to have you”.
Obviously, skating there for four days – it was very special and I loved it, and also I loved the fact that I didn’t know Brian and Tracy, and it was really just a fresh new start. That was the first time that I really met them. I’ve seen Brian, obviously, at competitions, and I waved and said Hi in the morning or something, but I never really talked to them.
So it was like you really earned that place?
It was really cool, and it was a shock, and the decision was made then and there, and I knew if I passed this decision up – it’s not like it would be on the table for that long. Brian and Tracy are incredible coaches and are in high demand, and when they said: “Come”, I was like: “Okay!” My parents were like: “You’re moving to Canada!”. And it was really exciting.
From what I know, when you came to the Cricket Club you already had a short program prepared – Rohene Ward [Jason’s long-time choreographer] choreographed it for you. And the free skate was created in Toronto from scratch. Does it feel different to skate two programs that were created in such different ways?
Yes, very different. They are so different, and not only did someone else choreograph my free program, but it’s also a very different type of music than I ever skated to.
And it’s the first time that anyone but Rohene has done it – the first time I ever worked with another choreographer on a competitive program. So that in itself is a completely different ball game.
But what was funny with Rohene is that after the season I knew I was gonna make a coaching change, and I said: “Rohene, I’m gonna try this year – this is just a new start, I’m gonna have someone do both programs”. And, obviously, he was so supportive: “Yes, you should be as open as possible. Go to whomever choreographs them, and let them do the work”. He was so excited to see what someone else was going to do with me.
But then my sister sent me this piece of music, and I called Rohene, and I was like: “Rohene, I know I told you like three weeks ago that someone else is gonna do my programs, but I heard this piece of music and – it’s you”. Like: “I wouldn’t even feel comfortable doing this program with anyone else”. And he was like: “Absolutely, Jason”.
And we choreographed it. And I didn’t have a coach when we did it.
And Brian and Tracy wanted two new programs, but luckily I sent the video [of the short] to them, and they said: “We love it. We’ll just do a new long”.
But that being said, with the long program it’s taking a little longer to jell and to understand not just the choreography and making it my own, but also the skating style, and what they’re trying to incorporate.
It’s new and it’s different, and I also had it 4 month less than my short. So it’s really, really new. I think my long was finished in July, and my short was done in February-March.
MAKING THE LONG PROGRAM HIS OWN
Can you tell me a little bit about the process of choosing the music for the free skate, and the work with a new choreographer?
There really wasn’t that much of a process this year. I was working out one day in the gym, and the skating director came up to me and said: “Hey, Brian and Tracy want to see you in their office”. I was like: “Oh, my gosh, they’re gonna kick me out. What did I do?” [panicky voice] ’Cause when you hear something like: “Brian and Tracy want you in their office”, you know…
It’s almost like getting called to the principal’s office on school! [both laughing]
Exactly! So I was like: “Oh, my God, this is bad”.
And I walked in, and Brian, Tracy and David Wilson, they were all in the office, and they were like: “Jason, we know what we want you to skate to”. And I was like “What?”. And they played the music, and I nodded, and nodded, and nodded, and they were like – “What do you think?”
And I was like: “I like it” [through gritted teeth, with an obviously pretended smile on].
And they were like: “Okay, what’s your honest opinion?”. And I was like: “Okay, I’m just gonna be honest. I reeeally don’t like it”.
But it was less of me just not liking the music and more of not liking it for me. I was like: “This just isn’t me, and it doesn’t feel like me”.
But that being said, I was also so eager for change and wanting something different. So I was obviously willing to try and willing to put myself out there, but I was honest from the start, and I said: “I really don’t like it”. But David said: “Jason, I have this vision. If you don’t like it – we’ll scrap it and start something totally new. No worries”.
So we started choreographing it. Obviously, as you can see, I’m still skating to it, I loved it, and he convinced me. And the more we worked on it, it constantly became more and more me. It’s developed, and it’s changed, little pieces here and there. And it has still a long way to go, it’s still something I’m getting used to, and it’s still a process that I’ve never gone through before.
In comparison to the way you skated it in the beginning of the season there have been some changes in this programs.
Yes, so much! A ton of changes. And I think that comes with the adaptation of making it your own.
You know, when we finished choreographing it, there wasn’t a single split jump, there wasn’t a single spiral, nothing. Or a Bauer – there were no Bauers. And that was how I first did it at Champs Camp – a US Team Camp, or Autumn Classic, my first senior B. And people were like: “Where’s the things that Jason does? That, you know, you don’t see as often?”
And it was just that I didn’t really speak up to David, and said: “Hey, I can do this, and this, and this”. I was really just: “What do you want me to do?” And he choreographed the program, and he really didn’t know me as a skater – which I also love, because it’s such a different vision that he’s giving to me, and what he’s creating with my body, and the way that we’re doing the program.
But that being said, little things have been added, and constantly things are changing, and we’re slowly making it my own. And we’re keeping all the changes, and style, and then find the ways to incorporate parts that are signature and that are me.
And for the short program, to “Love Is a Bitch” – that’s quite something. Can you tell about your interpretation of the story, the message behind it?
For me it was this passive-aggressive way to keep this fire ignited in me. I had three seasons with Love in them. I did two long programs that I had for three years: I had “Scent of Love” and I’ve skated to “Inner Love”. And my sister sent this music to me as kind of a funny joke, but she also was like: “I love this music. ’Cause love is a bitch”.
And I was like “You know what? It HAS been!”
I worked SO hard over these past three years and… I had incredible moments as well, but there was a lot in there that I was disappointed with. And I was like: “You know what? I’m taking a different side of it. Love IS a Bitch!” And that was this passive-aggressive salty way of going around it.
It was fun to play this character that I usually don’t play. I get into that mood and it gives me that hunger every day. It reminds me, and I mean it in a positive way, that I’m not allowed to forget that pain. I’m bringing it with me and I’m making something of it.
It’s almost like it’s not only about love being a bitch, but life in general.
Yes, exactly! The pain, the heartbreak, the good and the bad, and you just come out and – attack!
PERSPECTIVES: “GIVE YOURSELF 18 MONTHS” & “I’M NOT GONNA SAY IT’S EASY”
And, of course, you have to adjust to a lot of technical changes now as well. Kids nowadays learn to do quads at a much younger age than you did. So do you feel like you have to learn a new jumping technique now?
Yes, everything has changed. The whole way they train at the Cricket Club is different, it’s a completely different technique from what I’ve learned. And it’s taking a lot of time.
They said it would, and they said – “Give yourself 18 months”. And it’s been 5. So we’re now even on third of the way there, you know. But what is so exciting – is that I’m seeing the changes.
Even in the summer, it took me 6 weeks to learn the triple Axel. And I could land them, I could land triple Axels, but doing it the way they have me do it – it took me 6 weeks. And then from there, it took me even longer to… You know, when I went to Autumn Classic – I landed one triple Axel. When I went to Skate Canada – I landed one triple Axel. Here – I’m so glad to walk away with landing three.
So there is also growing, but it is the thing with all other jumps. The technique is different, so there is a lot of thinking that goes on, but it’s starting to become more and more natural. ‘Starting’ is the key word [smiles].
Also Loop, Flip and Lutz are starting to come. Sal and Toe, being jumps that I worked so hard with quads, it’s taking much longer. Because I have ingrained even more of a habit. Wherein I worked daily on Flip and Lutz, like drilling them – even then it took a while to do what they wanted.
And with Sal and Toe, working on quads, every day for 3 or 4 years prior, and now having to do it in such a different way, I’m like: “Huh?? What?” [makes a comically confused face]. I have so much that I have to undo. It’s this funny kind of double standard. Like, I’m thinking so much, but there’s no time to think in a quad. You just have to – [claps a few times very fast].
So it’s slowly narrowing the gap to make it comfortable, and make it feel normal, but it’s just gonna take time. And I’m so fortunate that they’re so patient with me and they understand that process. So it’s really awesome in that sense, but it’s a struggle. I’m not gonna say it’s easy.
But the quad that you are now trying to incorporate into your programs is quad Sal, not quad Toe, which is usually considered easier…
Yes, like I said before about quads and working on them – I worked so much more on quad Toe. And quad Toe was so much more comfortable. And they’ve made so many changes that I’m honestly just struggling with it. And the Sal is just further along on the technique that they want. So even when I do a quad Toe, and I’m like: “Yeeeah! That was good” [makes a very excited face], they’re like: “Jason, no” [tired and non-impressed face]. But I love that they have such a way, and I’m trying my best to learn it that way.
But there’s so much more changes on quad Toe because I worked on it for much longer. So that’s why right now it’s Sal. If it was my choice – Toe, 100%. I love [toe-]pick jumps. Like, you take a short program – I love Flip, I love Lutz. So it’s a little bit more difficult with Sal now, especially with adrenaline at competitions, but it’s much further along with the technique that I’m trying to adapt to now.
So do I understand it right that the jumps are the main focus you needed to change? Because with other elements you’ve been pretty good before…
You know, they are really still pushing with the skating skills. And the energy that comes with the crossovers, and the patterning, the very focus on that, and also how it pertains to the jump.
But when it comes to spins, we’ve really put it aside right now. I worked really hard on them to kind of set the spins that I was gonna do, but after that – we haven’t really worked on spins. It was to work on in my free time, if I had free time, but now it’s really about jumping elements and mastering that technique.
That’s gonna take this season and beyond, as well as mastering the way that Tracy does stroking, and the way that she handles the weight change, and how you’re putting your weight into your skating. It’s very different.
“THE NEW RULES HAVE HELPED SO MUCH WHEN IT COMES TO SKATING WELL”
And regarding the new changes in Grades of Execution marks, I’m guessing you were one of those who were happy about it? Seems like it would benefit you.
To be honest, it’s not something I really put much thought in. Because I don’t have any say in it. As an athlete, I’m not making the rules. As an athlete, you look at the rule changes and you try to make the most out of it. You think: “Okay, where can I thrive, how can I make the most of the situation, most of the rules”.
And, yes, it has been amazing when it goes well. The new rules have helped so much when it comes to skating well. Like when I did that short program yesterday and I was really confident throughout the whole thing – it was really amazing to get rewarded for that.
And in that moment I was a little shocked, because it was 20 points higher than what I did at Skate Canada. But it just shows when you do make mistakes you see how much it pulls away.
What I love so much about this judging system is that it gives every type of skater a chance. And that’s really all you can ask for in a sport. It gives people a chance to, whatever you excel at, to make the most out of it. It doesn’t make one skater fit them all.
’Cause if you miss a jump, even if you’re the best skater in the world, then you aren’t, it pulls you down. And if you skate great, it keeps you up and it helps you. It really emphasizes your strengths – and that I love – and that it gives all kind of skaters the ability to succeed.
But that being said, I think everyone now is figuring out the flip side to that. Like, at Autumn Classic, I skated pretty clean, but they downgraded one single thing – and it made such a big difference. That was almost 10 points lower than what I’ve got here. So, with it being so new, it’s interesting to see the way it plays into you.
But it’s just my third event with the new judging system, and every event we change something, to kind of play to those strengths and see the way it adapts.
And what about the changing to the free program timing – from 4 minutes and a half to 4 minutes. Did it make much impact for you?
To be honest, it’s not something I really think about anymore. Once a program is choreographed, it wasn’t even something I thought about. But choreographing the program – so difficult. All the choreographers are also going through it. So that part was really hard.
I kinda thrive with the endurance, and I love the endurance part of the sport. And I loved that it allowed you to have more time for the artistry. So taking away the 30 seconds was difficult. Well, not difficult, but a little sad, because it’s not something that I struggled with, it’s like one of my strengths.
But that being said, once the program is choreographed, then you just kind of go with it. But it was really difficult to make all the elements fit, and do all the little things, and make it work. And now I’m a little… I don’t wanna say ping-bally-ish, but a little like: jump-and a jump-and a jump-and do this [snapping his fingers in a fast rhythm]. It’s a little hectic.
But as the season goes on, the program starts to adapt, and it becomes more and more manageable.
“WE ALL PUSH EACH OTHER”
Jason, how does it feel for you to skate in a group with such skaters as Yuzuru, Evgenia, Junhwan?
It’s incredible. What’s so neat about the environment is that we all push each other and we are all so close. I don’t feel competitive in any way with any of the skaters, it’s just this amazing atmosphere: we are all friends, we all want the best for each other, we’re all in it together.
And the amount that Evgenia has taught me just from watching her, and becoming so close with her, and becoming friends with her – she pushes me so much, and she made me such a better competitor. Even just going from Skate Canada to here – she just constantly pushes me.
And same with Jun. Especially being… I don’t wanna say ‘old’, ’cause I’m not old – but I’m old for the Cricket Club. Yuzuru and I are the oldest. Luckily, he’s a week older [smiles]. But you take Jun, who’s 17, Evgenia who just turned 19, Gabby who’s 20 – and coming to that, you’re like: “How am I gonna…?” [exasperated laugh]. ’Cause I don’t feel that old! But you really need to see the younger skaters train, because they’re so… They’re drill sergeants. They go-go-go, and it’s pushing me. At the end of the session I’m like: “I don’t know how are they still going”.
Little by little, I’m training myself to be one of these skaters, that by the end of the session I’m still going. And it’s really cool, I love it. And Brian and Tracy and other coaches balance it out so well, they are so good at managing everyone. I feel very fortunate to train alongside them.
”I’M GONNA TRY, AND LEARN, AND GROW, AND ADAPT”
What goals did you set for yourself this season?
None! I have no goals this season when it comes to results. And I think that was something for the first time, when I came in. And the reason I don’t have those goals is because I don’t want to stunt the process right now.
There’s so much that I’m trying to learn, and it’s so easy to say: “You know what? Let’s put the technique on pause, and let me do this”. Like, in the beginning of the season I could have been: “Okay, we did what we could in the summer. Let’s set these programs, I could feel confident and whatever, and do them”. But what’s the point in that?
No, I’m gonna go to all these events and keep pushing the technique you’re putting at me, I’m gonna keep trying to integrate the changes. Time and time and time again I’m gonna try and go out there, and learn, and grow, and adapt.
And to walk away this time with a medal – I’m so pleased, but that being said, it wasn’t easy feeling for me to get 4th at Autumn Classic. It didn’t feel good to get 6th at Skate Canada. But at the same time, I was really proud of the journey and the progression I was making.
But because I’ve always been so… Well, I don’t wanna say ‘focused on the result’, because I always focus on skating my skate. But I know that if I can skate my skate – I’ll get the result that I’m looking for. And now, I don’t even know what ‘my skate’ is. And I’m not saying that I’m lost and I don’t know who I am! But there’s so much new. Like, I even warm up in a whole different way on a 6-minutes warm-up. I’m like: “I don’t know how it’s gonna play out, but I’ll give it a go”.
The mindset, and the way that I’m interacting with Tracy and Brian – it’s all changing.
So you’re just open to everything, and at this point any goal can be a limit?
Exactly! And I don’t want in any circumstance to stunt that growth by saying: “Let’s put a stopper on it, and do something else”.
That being said, I really wanna make the World team and, to do that, I have to be Top 3 at Nationals. But whether I make the team or not – that wasn’t my goal for this year, in that sense. Like, I want this, I wanna be on US podium, I wanna be at 4 Continents, I wanna be at Worlds – but it’s not my end-all, be-all goal. I wanna grow.
So, if for some reason it doesn’t happen, it won’t crush you?
No! I’ll be so excited to take the extra time and train, and continue to adapt. So by no means do I look at that as a negative. Will I be bummed at the moment? Yes, of course. But I think going through what I went through last season and coming out of it – I know I’m still alive. Everything’s fine, I love my family, and I’m so lucky to still be able to skate, and I’m healthy. Nothing compares to that pain, and I’m not worried or afraid to fail again, in that sense. If that makes sense.
I faced my nightmare, and I survived. And I’m okay. And going through that, I’m like: “Whatever life throws at me, bring it on”.
SEE MORE: Jason Brown at 2018 Internationaux de France
[interview by Nadia Vasilyeva, Grenoble/intro & editing by Florentina Tone/photos taken in Grenoble by Mila Iutskevych]