Young Americans skate into spotlight

Young Jason Brown, channeling his inner Prince, finished second in the Skate America men's short program. GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images

DETROIT – He called it "mental instability," a phrase he made up on the spot Friday night because Max Aaron wasn't sure how else to explain it. But while Aaron was dealing with the pressures that come with quadruple jumps and Olympic expectations and suddenly playing the role of U.S. frontrunner, Jason Brown demonstrated the exuberance of youth.

Two weeks ago, the 18-year-old Brown, who has attempted a quad only in practice, found out he would be replacing Olympic defending champion Evan Lysacek in this weekend's Skate America 2013. And while it did nothing to boost ticket sales in Detroit, it may have jump-started Brown's Olympic aspirations after the kid finished second in the short program to Japan's Tatsuki Machida.

In third place was American Adam Rippon, who like Brown scored a personal best and suddenly was thinking that maybe winning one of two spots on the 2014 U.S. team in Sochi wasn't a longshot.

The boot of Rippon's skate snapped Thursday, not a good thing for a skater, particularly one viewing this event as critical to proving to critics he was a legitimate Olympic team contender.

"It was bad ... I was one step away from bubble gum and elastic," Rippon said. "[But] I would've hopped around on one foot if I had to."

Instead, Rippon, following Aaron -- who fell on his first quad Salchow and triple toe loop – ripped off a triple Axel and triple flip-toe loop combo after touching his hand on his quad Lutz, making the statement he was aiming to make.

"I have the hardest attempted program today. I thought that was my first statement," Rippon said. "My next statement was I just wanted to show I had this big presence on the ice, that I'm that guy [and] that even if someone else is skating, you have to watch me."

Three skaters later, it was Brown's turn, and the two-time world junior championship medalist, doing his best Prince imitation, exhorted and played to the small but receptive crowd at Joe Louis Arena, an infectious smile quickly becoming his trademark.

Performing to Prince's "The Question of U" in, natch, a purple outfit adorned with sequins on his back and down one leg, Brown seemed to gain confidence as he went along, making up for an easier routine by pulling off his triple Axel, triple flip and triple toe loop and his triple Lutz with near flawless precision.

Too young to have ever seen the artist in his prime, Brown said he watches Prince videos to try to get into character.

"Once I started going into the jumps and the program picked up, that's when I realized I was competing as I trained and that's when I really started to open up to the audience and play to them and they were so supportive," Brown said.

But first Brown, who graduated with his Highland Park, Ill., high school class last spring before moving to Colorado to train, had to overcome the jitters in practice, not to mention competing with the likes of 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Daisuke Takahashi, 2011 World silver medalist Takahiko Kozuka and Machida.

"They are three of the best in the world," Brown said, "and it took me a couple minutes in practice this morning to say, 'I know this is real.' You think it's this dream. And then you come back to reality."

He was aiming for a 79 and ended up with an 83.78, a whopping 13 points better than his previous personal-best.

"I think this whole year I've been telling myself that anything I get is going to be an experience," he said. "Finding out and then competing here two weeks later was definitely a great learning experience."

And it makes the idea of making the Olympic team, he said, not so crazy.

"Every day it gets a little more of like, 'This could be possible. This could be a reality,' " Brown said. "And that's something that's on my mind."