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Highland Park Crowd Ecstatic Over Jason Brown’s Olympic Performance

Hundreds of friends, fans and well-wishers gathered at Highland Park’s Centennial Ice Arena to cheer him on during his performance Friday.

Fans are reflected in the glass surrounding the ice at Centennial Ice Arena during a viewing party for Jason Brown's Olympic performance.
Fans are reflected in the glass surrounding the ice at Centennial Ice Arena during a viewing party for Jason Brown's Olympic performance.

Kylie Gimbel could have watched Jason Brown’s Olympic performance on the big screen TV that Elm Place Middle School set up in the gym for students.

Instead, she was one of the hundreds of friends, fans and local well-wishers who gathered at Centennial Ice Arena Friday to watch the hometown skater perform his long program in Sochi.

“He inspires us,” Kylie said. “We’re really proud of him.”

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Brown, 19, was a long-shot for a medal Friday and ended up finishing in 9th place. But as far as the crowd at Centennial was concerned, his performance was solid gold.

Memories of a young, passionate skater

Sharyn Weiss was among a small group who spent the entire morning at Centennial watching the full competition — Brown didn’t skate until the very end.

As she watched the other athletes perform, she talked about the day that Brown, then 3 or 4, took to the ice for the first time when his older sister, Jordan, was having a lesson. Weiss was a director of the skating program at the time.

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“He just loved it,” she said of the little boy she saw step out on the ice.

Did she know then that he would become an Olympian?

That’s not what she hopes for, she said.

“I’m happy when someone is happy to skate every single day,” she said. Seeing Brown so passionate about his sport — he mentions in national interviews that he wants to attract more people to figure skating — “is wonderful.”

Connecting with the crowd and individuals

Much of what has made Brown such a sensation at the Games is his ability to connect with the crowd during his Riverdance routine. A YouTube clip of his U.S. Figure Skating Championship performance has garnered nearly four million views.

“It’s like he’s skating for you,” said AnneMarie Laures, who was at the viewing party and traveled to Nationals last months. “He connects. He’s not lost in what he’s doing.”

Lizzy Temkin, 23, who grew up skating at Centennial, also traveled to the Nationals. She said she and the group of Highland Park skaters she was with went nuts after Brown’s routine.

“We thought we were being obnoxious,” she said. Then she looked around and realized everyone was going nuts. “Everyone was equally excited.”

A moment that stood out at the competition was when the skaters lined up to shake hands with a group of former Olympic champions. Brown was first and instead of shaking their hands he gave them each a hug. The skaters behind him thought that was the protocol and followed suit, creating a long line of hugs.

“That’s so typical of Jason,” Temkin said.

Hannah Frazer, 12, had her own story of Brown’s kindness.

She was practicing a routine at Centennial one day and fell. Brown, who was in the middle of his own routine, stopped to help her up.

“He’s literally the nicest person ever,” she said, a sentiment echoed by others young and old at the party.

And the crowd goes wild

At 12:58, Brown took to the ice in Sochi.

The crowd at Centennial clapped and chanted his name and went wild after he landed his first jump.

“Do it again, do it again,” one man yelled.

People waved flags and red, white and blue pompoms, and wore red ribbons that had been printed up wishing Brown good luck around their necks.

When he stumbled there was a collective “whoa” from the crowd. But within seconds, they forgot it happened and were back to clapping and stomping along with the music.

Then they were on their feet.

And when his No. 9 finish was announced, he received a huge cheer.

“I thought he did wonderfully,” said Jim Juarez, who grew up near Centennial but doesn’t know Brown. “He’s an inspiration.”

Kimberly Ganschow, a coach at Centennial did a post-mortem on the performance with a friend, bubbling over with enthusiasm.

“It was just amazing,” she said. “They’re thinking long term,” about future Olympics

Then, echoing what everyone n the crowd was thinking at that moment she added, “we’re so proud of him.

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