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Jason Brown dazzles crowd again in short program

As he eyes a national title, Jason Brown must prove he can move his jumps to the next level

It was in this arena at the U.S. Championships four years ago that Jason Brown first showed the appeal that made him a crowd favorite well before he became one of the top figure skaters in the country.

Then just 16, his artistically stunning free skate had the audience standing to applaud before it was over. That Brown had finished just ninth in his first senior nationals was less important than the promise he showed, especially with a jump repertoire that included neither a quad nor a triple axel.

Two unremarkable years and eighth-place finishes followed before Brown, triple axel well in hand, again dazzled a crowd — and 4 million YouTube viewers — with a free skate to "Riverdance" last January in Boston, which made him the national silver medalist and a member of the 2014 Olympic team.

As he eyes the next step, a national title in the men's competition that began with him winning Friday night's short program, Brown still must prove he can move the jump content of his programs to the next level if he is to contend for global medals.

He has yet to attempt a quad in competition and will not do it here. In his two Grand Prix events this season, Brown botched three of six triple axels, falling on two. He finished second at Skate America and fifth at the Rostelecom Cup in Russia, missing the six-skater Grand Prix Final by one place.

While the sport is more than jumping, such deficiencies lead one to wonder whether his advance has stagnated temporarily, a question he answered in a text message.

"Each year I push myself to skate challenging, complex programs with improvements on all elements — from my spins and jumps, to precision of steps, to artistry on the ice," Brown wrote. "Jumps are an important part of my programs, but just as I waited to incorporate the triple axel, I want to wait to integrate the quad until I feel it won't compromise the integrity of the program."

Brown rocked the Greensboro Coliseum again Friday night, with his technically flawless interpretation of the boogie classic "Juke," drawing a standing ovation and a score of 93.36, which gave him the lead over two other quad-less artists, Joshua Farris (90.40) and four-time champion Jeremy Abbott (89.93), going into Sunday's final.

He nailed the triple axel, did a triple flip-triple toe combination that was both powerful and lighter than air and entranced everyone with his footwork and spins. For all that, the question remained: When the quad?

The answer was apparently not this season. Brown talked of trying it at low-level events next summer.

"Once it's consistent [in practice], we are going to put it in the program," Brown said. "I don't want to go in and think too much about that one jump and then take away from the rest of the program."

Brown, ninth at the 2014 Olympics, has increased the potential points in his free skate by doing two triple-triple combinations in the latter half, when they draw a 10% bonus. But he almost certainly will need a quad to battle for a medal at the 2018 Olympics.

The prospect of becoming U.S. champion brought out the same unfettered enthusiasm Brown has expressed unabashedly for the past five seasons.

"I think it's kind of cool I'm going in for the first time not as a complete underdog," he said earlier this month. "That's new and exciting and nerve-racking.

"To get my first national title would be truly unbelievable, and I hope it would be just the start of many more titles. I'm ready."

phersh@tribpub.com

Twitter @olyphil

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