Skating on ‘Schindler’s List,’ figure skater Jason Brown will make second trip to Winter Olympics – The Forward
Jewish figure skater Jason Brown has competed around the world on the musical styles of Simon and Garfunkel, ‘Hamilton’ and Prince, but says no program has meant more to him than the one he takes to the Olympics in Beijing 2022: a free skating routine to the soundtrack of “Schindler’s List”.
“‘Schindler’s List’ is a piece of music I’ve wanted to skate to for so many years, but I never felt mature enough to skate the way I imagined one day,” Brown said. “To be able to do it on the Olympic stage is a huge honor. It’s a piece of music that means so much to me, and obviously to the community for years.
(The iconic Holocaust film’s soundtrack has been a popular musical choice among figure skaters since 1994, when Katarina Witt, a German Olympian, skated to its score.)
Named to the Olympic team following a fourth-place finish at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January, the 27-year-old skating veteran will get a second chance to contest the Olympic rings at the Beijing Games alongside teammates Nathan Chen , 22, and Vincent Zhou, 21.
Brown made his first trip to the Olympics at the 2014 Sochi Games, where he won a bronze medal in the team event and placed ninth in the men’s singles portion. He was then 19 years old and at the time the youngest American male skater named to an Olympic team in nearly 40 years.
“To go to those two extremes, from the youngest to the oldest in the team, I think I come with a lot of experience and a lot of maturity. I’m excited to take everything I’ve learned along the way. and really apply it,” Brown said.
Since the Sochi Games, Brown has won a national championship, suffered a stress fracture, changed coaches and overcome training hurdles during the pandemic. Outside of skating, he swapped his famous ponytail hairstyle for a sleeker cut and opened up about his gayness in an Instagram post last June.
“I think that’s what your 20s mean. It’s about trying to understand your place in the world not just as an athlete, but as someone growing up, becoming independent and making their own decisions,” Brown said. “It was amazing for me to break down a lot of those barriers, find answers to a lot of the questions I had, and really blossom.”
Visit Yad Vashem in Israel
Part of Brown’s off-ice journey took him to a Birthright trip to Israel in 2016, where he traded triple axis drills and long programs for shawarma lunches and swimming in the Dead Sea. He recalled the liveliness of beachgoers in Tel Aviv, the powerful image of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and a newfound appreciation for hummus. Most lasting, however, was the impact of his visit to Yad Vashem, where he recalls feeling a sense of community unlike anything he had experienced before.
“It’s so easy for athletes to be hyper-focused and just think about our sport, and it was an incredible opportunity to step back and be a kid, to be around people, to learn and soak up. The experience was something that will always be among my most incredible memories.
Brown started skating at the age of three after his mother enrolled him and his sister in learn-to-skate lessons at a local ice rink in Highland Park, Illinois. Long before Jason was a two-time Olympian, he was spending his summers in a way familiar to many American Jews: singing songs on Shabbat at a Jewish summer camp. A participant in the URJ Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute from 2003 to 2008, Brown relished Friday nights, when counselors led the entire camp singing before a Camp Director’s Storytime.
As Brown began to climb the competitive ladder, he made the 2014 Olympic team but failed to make it again in 2018 after a sixth-place finish at the nationals that year.
He called the moment of his life after his failure to make the team an identity crisis that required soul-searching and a search beyond skating to find who he was outside of his Olympic abilities.
“By making the team at such a young age, you almost become that identity that you were when you started this team because that’s how the public sees you. That’s kind of how I saw myself” Brown said, “I went through a kind of evolution trying to rebuild and rediscover my self-worth, and find my identity outside of the parameters I set for myself.”
After the 2018 season, Brown left longtime coach Kori Ade in Colorado to work with Brian Orser, Tracy Wilson and Karen Preston in Toronto, where he trains six to seven hours a day, five days a week. Off the ice, Brown works on his flexibility and strength by swimming, biking, taking Pilates classes and doing physical therapy.
His four-year plan paid off – prior to his selection to the Beijing team there were strong international performances which included a silver medal at the 2020 Four Continents Championships and medals at all his Grands Prix from the 2021-2022 season for the first time in his career, including a gold medal at the 2022 Finlandia Trophy.
As these Winter Games approach, he says he has never felt so strong.
“Obviously you want to keep pushing yourself, but you also want to take it upon yourself to say ‘those things are what makes me confident and makes me strong,'” Brown said. “It’s not just ‘oh, I’m building the experience.’ Now he says, “Okay, I have the experience, the time to apply it, focus and trust yourself, trust your body to know that.”
Ahead of the February 4 Winter Games opening ceremony, Brown’s schedule is jam-packed with practice, interviews with Team USA and preparation for the Games’ Covid-19 protocol, which will require a period of isolation after his arrival on January 31. As coaches Wilson and Orser make the trip to Beijing with Brown, his family will watch his performances on television from places like Los Angeles and Chicago in the United States.
After agreeing to every little detail to achieve his Olympic dream a second time, Brown packs his bags for Beijing knowing he can savor the Olympic experience – and leave everything else on the ice.
Skating on “Schindler’s List”, figure skater Jason Brown will make a second trip to the Winter Olympics