From the moment four years ago at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships that Jason Brown first showed impressive potential, he talked about following the example of another skater from suburban Chicago.
Sunday, he joined Evan Lysacek as a national champion by emulating what impressed Brown most about his predecessor.
"Something about Evan that was so incredible was his work ethic and the way he was so consistent," Brown said. "Every time he went out to perform, he was a competitor. He was ready to do what it took to do the best he could."
But there is a risk if Brown thinks he can follow in all of Lysacek's footsteps.
Brown, 20, took the title despite finishing second in the free skate to Adam Rippon, despite not trying a quadruple jump, despite having just one clean triple axel. No matter that Brown's spins and footwork were wonderful in an action-packed 41/2 minutes, a free skate of that technical level will have no chance at winning medals at the world championships or the Olympics.
It is true that Lysacek won the 2010 Olympics and 2009 worlds without a quad. But the sport has changed significantly since then, with rules offering less risk and more reward for trying the quad. Many top foreign skaters are successfully doing the jump multiple times over the short program and free skate.
Rafael Arutunian, who coaches Rippon and women's champion Ashley Wagner, worries that seeing how Brown won this title will encourage other U.S. skaters to shun challenge for comfort.
"This will tell them you can win and do only one hard element," Arutunian said. "It's a bad message."
Not since 2009 has a man won the U.S. title without landing a quad, let alone not attempting one. Brown was the only one of the top-10 overall finishers this year who did not do a quad.
Lysacek actually landed quads in winning a U.S. title in 2007, and he tried them in 2008. He later eschewed quads because of erratic results and because he could work the system then in place for enough points to be a title contender without it.
Two seasons ago, when Brown finally landed a triple axel, he vowed to begin working on quads. But he has yet to try one in competition, insisting he will wait until he can do the jump consistently in practice.
Brown's nearly nine-point lead over Rippon after Friday's short program — in which none of the top three tried a quad — proved enough for him to win by 2.5 points with a score of 274.98, highest overall at a U.S. championships. Joshua Farris was third, seven points behind Brown; Max Aaron took fourth; and four-time champion Jeremy Abbott took fifth, his lowest finish in nine appearances at senior nationals.
The three medalists qualified for the world championships in March.
Rippon, 25, put the hardest quad possible, the lutz, in both of his programs. That he did not complete the revolutions on either cost him points but fulfilled his goal of being perceived as more than an underachieving artist on the ice.
"After the Grand Prix [season], I knew I needed to put the quad in," Rippon said. "I wanted to come here and not only show I was ready for the U.S. championships but that I was ready for the world championships and ready to fight for a spot on the world podium.
"I know when we go out internationally, there are going to be quads out there, and I feel like somebody who goes out there with a quad lutz sounds pretty threatening."
Farris, 20, fourth at the previous two nationals, got full base value credit (10.3) for a quad toe, losing 1.13 points for a wonky landing. The points he threw away by getting a zero for a jump element because it included his third double toe loop of the program (only two are allowed) were the difference between third and first.
"I may be kicking myself now," FarrIs said, "but it will keep me determined to improve."
Brown, ninth at the 2014 Olympics, has been concentrating on improving all phases of his skating rather than working on a quad.
The question of whether he will master it remains uncertain. He also has done just five clean triple axels in nine attempts on the Grand Prix circuit and nationals this season, falling on two of the other four.
"If I was maxed out on everything beside jumps, I would put more emphasis on the quad," Brown said.
Brown cannot max out his medal-winning potential without one.