- Figure Skating
Arsenio Hall in the corner of family friend Jason Brown
As 19-year-old Jason Brown has made his meteoric rise up the figure skating ranks in the U.S. this past season, becoming the first male teenager from the U.S. to qualify for the Olympics since 1976, one fan hasn’t missed a single spin, Axel or charismatic element from afar: Arsenio Hall.
“I watch every performance, either in person or on video,” says the legendary talk show host and comedian. “It’s hard for me to believe it’s Jason when he is on the ice. He’s two different people.”
Brown and Hall are connected through Jason’s mother, Marla Brown, who served as Arsenio’s executive producer on "The Arsenio Hall Show," which ran from 1989 to the spring of 1994, just months before Jason was born.
“Arsenio had been in my life since before I had the kids,” says Marla Brown. “I worked 18-hour days on that show with him.”
Though Jason was born after the show ended, he spent time with Arsenio throughout his childhood. For the Olympic season, he skates to Prince’s “The Question of U” for his short program, a musical taste Marla credits to Arsenio’s influence.
“We always laugh and say that in utero, my kids got their rhythm and beat from listening to all the R&B and rap that was on the show,” Marla explains. “I do think it’s cool that Jason is skating to Prince and Arsenio had Prince on the show – it’s funny how things go full circle.”
Brown’s vault into one of two Olympic spots for the U.S. men caught American figure skating by surprise this season. The reigning world junior silver medalist spent his late summer teeter-tottering between staying in the junior ranks or going senior.
“I was scared for my future to go senior this soon, but I followed my heart and my gut,” Jason says of the ultimate call to go senior. “I couldn’t be more happy and pleased with this decision – it’s been such a learning experience.”
And a fruitful one, at that. Days after returning from a competition in Germany in late September, Jason and his coach Kori Ade were told that he would skate at the season’s opening Grand Prix stop in Detroit, replacing none other than reigning Olympic champion Evan Lysacek, who had pulled out with an injury.
Embedded video_content_type: Meet the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Olympic Team
“They had me and Evan side-by-side in this news story I saw and that was beyond surreal for me,” gushes the Chicago native, who's now 19. “He’s such a huge role model for me. I was just so happy to be going to Skate America and said to a friend, ‘This isn’t real life!’ I can’t really understand how I’ve gotten to the point in my career, but I’m here somehow.”
Upon arrival on the Grand Prix circuit, Brown has made a lasting – and some say Olympic – impression with a refreshing brand of skating: His programs are bursting with energy and a smile that only a teenager can bring to the ice. While a quadruple jump – de rigor in men’s skating today – is lacking, his artistic credentials and seven triples in his free skate are winning over fans.
“We work on [the quad] every day,” Brown says. “We’re not going to put it in until it’s landed and consistent. These are two very tough, taxing programs and we don’t want putting in a quad to cause them to lose their integrity unless the quad will enhance the program.”
But the clean skates have worked to Brown’s advantage this season, most notably at Nationals. There, Brown landed eight triples in a spell-binding "Riverdance" free skate as reigning U.S. champion Max Aaron fell on one of his squads. The difference was enough for Brown to earn a spot in Sochi alongside winner and four-time national champ Jeremy Abbott.
Brown's season really got hot after a fifth place finish at Skate America - where he had replaced Lysacek - and then a bronze at the Paris Grand Prix stop in November.
“To finish third with a new personal best was a great scenario for me, it showed me that Skate America wasn’t luck and that I can do that again,” Brown says of his trip to France.
Having moved to train with Ade in Colorado Springs (they both came from Chicago) in the spring of 2013, Brown said in November that the Olympics weren’t just a dream for him anymore - even after he had started the season unsure if he was going to be a full-time senior skater.
“You always want to believe that you have a shot, but anything can happen in this sport and this is an Olympic year,” Brown surmised. “I really could find myself in Russia in February. It’s not so much of a dream – it’s still a dream – but it’s more of a ‘this could happen’ compared to ‘I have no shot.’”
“Years ago we weren’t saying he could possibly go to the Olympics, we were just thinking, ‘OK, he’s doing so well,” Marla Brown says.
"I've always said let's go after 2014," Ade says. "It's been my goal and I knew Jason had it in him to do it."
For Arsenio, who knows Jason as an expressive and energetic young man, his skating prowess is all the more impressive.
“Jason the athlete and Jason the young man are total opposites. The athlete is a focused, intense, disciplined man-child on blades,” Hall says. “As a young man, he’s incredibly sensitive and a normal kid.”
And while it’s certain that Hall will be watching Jason in Sochi, he’s not about to skate out onto the ice alongside his good friend.
“I have always wanted to skate with him some day, but I’m afraid he’ll laugh at me on skates,” Hall explains. “I’m used to him laughing WITH me all these years, not AT me!”
Embedded owg_slideshow: Team USA figure skaters named for Sochi Olympics