The triple axel has become a metaphor for Jason Brown's figure skating career, which moves to a new level with his senior Grand Prix debut Friday at Skate America in Detroit.
It took him longer than expected to master the 31/2-revolution axel, a jump critical to the success of any men's figure skater, just as it took him longer than others wanted to make the jump from the Chicago area to a training atmosphere that would hasten his progress.
Since last March, when he was 3-for-3 on triple axels while finishing second at the World Junior Championships, the jump no longer is Brown's nemesis.
"It was totally worth the wait for him to get the triple axel right," said his longtime coach, Kori Ade.
Right after that, the skater from Highland Park and his coach relocated to Colorado in a move that has not yet brought all the competitive advantages Ade envisioned.
The hope was for Brown, 18, to spend a couple of days each week training at the World Arena in Colorado Springs, where the other resident athletes include reigning U.S. men's champion Max Aaron. Instead, Brown is the lone elite athlete at a rink 25 miles away in Monument, Colo., because Ade so far has been denied permission to coach at the World Arena for reasons that are unclear to her.
"We weren't looking for a coach, so there was no reason to hire one," said World Arena general manager Dot Lischick.
Ade wishes it were otherwise.
"It always helps to be around an athlete like Max, to see how fast he skates, how high he jumps,'' Ade said.
Such an environment is what people started telling Brown's parents was necessary since he was 11 years old. He quickly picked up the refrain, tearfully pleading that he would miss his chance if he stayed close to home.
"You're always used to your kids begging for things, but it's a different story when you have coaches telling you, 'You're going to ruin his career, the life of a skater is short,' '' said Brown's mother, Marla.
"For our family, skating is only a part of his life, not his whole life. But saying no wasn't easy when you have in the back of your mind, 'Am I messing this up?'''
She still insisted Jason finish high school before he left home, just as he might have for college. He accelerated the process by fulfilling graduation requirements a semester early and now is taking two courses — Japanese and English — at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs this semester.
He shares a townhouse with Britney Simpson, a senior pairs skater, and Karina Manta, a novice ice dancer. The three are microwave cooking masters, although Brown said Simpson knows her way around both a stove and a BBQ grill.
"Looking back at it, I'm really glad my mother stuck to her guns," Brown said. "Once I got to my sophomore year of high school, I really wanted to finish up at home. This was the time to leave."
It has been less than three years since Brown, then 16, made his senior national debut with a free skate that brought down the house as he finished ninth. He would be ninth again in 2012 and eighth last season, with an improvement more significant than one place.
"Last season, landing the triple axel was my main focus," he said.
Now Brown is working on quadruple jumps, although Ade is in no rush to have him try one in competition. She thinks it would not be impossible for him to earn one of the two U.S. men's spots in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics without a quad.
"I think Team USA would like to send two guys with quads, but I haven't seen two guys with quads be able to put them out there consistently," she said. "I don't see why overall points can't trump somebody who tries a quad."
Brown, who replaces the injured Evan Lysacek at Skate America, was second in his senior international debut against a relatively weak field at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany three weeks ago. The top men in Detroit are Aaron, 2012 world silver medalist Daisuke Takahashi of Japan and 2011 world silver medalist Takahiko Kozuka of Japan after reigning world silver medalist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan withdrew Wednesday with ankle and back injuries.
Lysacek won the 2010 Olympics with two clean programs but no quad. That seems unlikely for 2014 because the value of quads has been increased by about 5 percent, and there is more emphasis than ever on the jumps.
Of course, it also seemed unlikely when Lysacek did it, but only one of the top 12 finishers in the Olympic free skate — silver medalist Evgeny Plushenko — landed a quad without a negative grade of execution.
"I know my peak and best (Olympic) chance will be in four years, but I'm not putting Sochi out of my mind," Brown said. "It's possible I could make the top two if I skate my best at nationals."
Grand Prix series
What: Skate America in Detroit, first of six events in the series, with top performers qualifying for the Grand Prix Final.
When: Friday, men's short program, short dance; Saturday, pairs and women's short programs; men's and dance finals; Sunday, pairs and women's finals.
TV: 3 p.m. Sunday, WMAQ-Ch. 5.
Skaters to watch: Reigning world champions Meryl Davis-Charlie White of the U.S. (dance) and Tatiana Volosozhar–Maxim Trankov of Russia (pairs); reigning Olympic silver medalist Mao Asada of Japan and reigning U.S. champion Ashley Wagner (women's singles); reigning Olympic bronze medalist Daisuke Takahashi of Japan and reigning U.S. champion Max Aaron (men's singles).