It's been a good month for U.S. figure skater Jason Brown. At only 19, he placed second at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, securing a spot on the team going to Sochi for next month's Winter Olympics. But it was his free skate at the national competition that electrified the crowd and made a YouTube star of Brown.
Brown, who grew up in the Chicago area and is training for the Olympics at an ice rink in Monument, Colo., tells All Things Considered co-host Audie Cornish that he had no idea his performance would win him so many fans.
"You know, I freak out when it gets 100 hits — I'm like, 'Oh my God, it's like 100 people have watched it on YouTube, this is insane!' " he tells Audie. "And like my highest-watched video, like since before nationals, was 8,000 views. So the fact that it's at 3 million — I don't know how it happened, I'm so blown away and so shocked — beyond shocked. It's so surreal to me."
That landmark performance came only weeks after Brown turned 19. And while his youthful eagerness shined through, he also wowed the crowd with intricate footwork and artistic flourishes.
Brown tells Audie that he "was a devil child growing up," always running from one thing to the next. And he says of his longtime skating coach, Kori Ade, "I don't know how my coach put up with me and how she, you know, was able to calm me down."
As for the Riverdance-like footwork, Brown gives all the credit to his choreographer, Rohene Ward.
"It was all him and he really took each like second of the footwork and made a move for each second," Brown says, "and we would work on that footwork for hours and hours every day."
With the precision and energy that Brown showed at the U.S. championship, commentators in skating say he has a chance to bring a medal home from Russia — even though he doesn't cram his program with jumps, and he doesn't have a quadruple jump in his arsenal.
The quad has been seen as a dividing line between skaters in recent years, despite the fact that American Evan Lysacek didn't perform one of the difficult jumps on his way to winning the gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
When Audie asks him about lacking a quad, Brown says he plans to stick with what works — and with his training.
"If I'm able to go out there and do my best performances, then I'll be happy no matter where it puts me," Brown says, "and I couldn't ask to do anything more."
Asked by Audie if he'll try a quad in Sochi, Brown says, "I am not gonna be trying it there."
One last exchange between Audie and Brown reflects how starkly things have changed for him.
"Your ponytail has a Twitter account," Audie says.
"Yes! Crazy! It's crazy!" Brown says.
"Are you following? And does it capture the personality?" Audie asks.
"I am following. I just started following the Twitter account, and I couldn't stop laughing. I was laughing so hard reading some of the tweets that it — or she, or he — wrote. I think it's just so funny, and I can't stop laughing over it."
Thanks to All Things Considered assistant producer Theo Balcomb for her help with this post.