Ashley Wagner comes off a strong season. Jason Brown comes off a wasted one.
So both Americans are at much different junctures in their careers as they begin the Grand Prix season this weekend at Skate America in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
Wagner brought home the first U.S. women’s medal in a decade at the world championships this year when she grabbed silver. The three-time U.S. champion and 2014 Olympic team bronze medalist believes she needs to build off of that silver medal, not gloat about it.
“This season is, I think, a very important season for me, because I got so much momentum coming off that world silver medal,” the 25-year-old Wagner said. “It was huge for my career. Something I kind of have to make sure is I keep my focus. I can’t rely on going into competitions being a world silver medalist. It’s something I have, but it is the past.
“My focus is getting to worlds and getting back on that podium.”
Skate America, which begins Friday, is a good place to start. She’ll face current U.S. champion Gracie Gold (fourth at Sochi) and three-time world winner Mao Asada of Japan as the six-event series begins. For Wagner — and Gold — the goal is to perform well enough to get to the Grand Prix Final in Marseille in December. A win in suburban Chicago would nearly assure that.
“I would love to establish myself as the leading U.S. lady,” Wagner says. “In order to do that, I need to put out two solid programs.”
Brown didn’t get the opportunity to do that last season. His quick rise through the figure skating ranks — from the junior level in 2013 to Olympic team bronze medalist at Sochi to U.S. champ in 2015 — took a detour.
Brown barely competed last season because of lower back pain that began plaguing him at Skate America. The always bubbly skater tried to take a positive approach to being off the ice.
“I look at it as more experience,” said the 21-year-old Brown. “What’s it like missing out on part of a season, when you don’t get to do as many consistent drills because your body is rehabbing? At the same time, you’re having the confidence you can do it. So you are finding other places to get that confidence.
“I looked at it as gaining experience rather than missing out on more and more events. I never looked at it as a negative. … This is another opportunity for me to grow and gain experience in a different way.”
He won the U.S. International Classic last month in Salt Lake City. The Skate America field is stronger, with Shoma Uno and Daisuke Murakami of Japan, Maxim Kovtun of Russia and Jin Boyang of China.
Brown is from nearby Highland Park, and he has been doing work with Ronald McDonald House in the Chicago area. Not only is he thrilled to be back competing, but he’s extra jacked-up — hard to imagine with him — that it’s a “home game.”
“I’m excited to get to perform at home and head home, and get to perform in that hometown environment,” said Brown, adding he’ll have “definitely over 30, maybe like 50, including relatives and family friends” in his rooting section.
“I think there could even be more. The family/friend/family tree goes on and on. The Browns are coming and they are ready to cheer.”