SOCHI, Russia — On a night loaded with figure skating distractions, teenage Olympic newcomer Jason Brown of the USA was cool as ice. His veteran teammate, two-time Olympian Jeremy Abbott, crashed into the boards when he fell on his big opening jump. But he, too, met the test by getting up and finishing solidly.
Brown is in sixth place after the men's short program Thursday night at the Iceberg Skating Palace. Abbott is 15th.
Brown nonetheless is within less than a point of the three skaters in front of him in third through fifth place. That sets him up for a shot at a bronze in the free skate Friday night.
"I had my headphones in until I got into the ice. … I was just really focused on going out there and doing what I had to do," the pony-tailed, 19-year-old Brown said after his short program at the Iceberg Skating Palace.
Brown, who is from Highland Park, Ill., doesn't yet have the big move – the high-scoring quadruple jump. But skating to The Question of U by Prince, he landed his jumps: triple axel, triple flip/triple toe loop combo and triple lutz.
The judges gave him score of 86.00, surpassing his previous personal best of 84.77.
That put him with range of third place Javier Fernandez of Spain (86.98), fourth place Daisuke Takahashi of Japan (86.40) and fifth-place Peter Liebers of Germany (86.04).
Thirty skaters competed. Brown was in the third group. Right before he took the ice, the group before him delivered the unusual.
First, Russian star Evgeny Plushenko (whom Brown idolizes) pulled out due to a back injury after warming up. Plushenko had shocked Brown during an Olympic practice when he came up to him and said he knew who the teenager was an admired him.
"He's been so nice to me and so supportive. … He is beyond like that passionate, driven skater. … So I know it was frustrating that he had to pull out. … He's really a true champion," said Brown.
With the building still buzzing about Plushenko's exit, Abbott had his crash.
Abbott came here on the heels of his fourth U.S. title. He was intent on erasing the memory of his ninth-place finish at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. But he had a shaky short program in the Sochi team event last week, also falling on his quad, and placed seventh out of 10. He even said after that fall, "For me I think it was a very positive step. You're all going to think I'm crazy."
He said he would be refocused for the men's individual competition and even moved out of the athletes village to a hotel to avoid distractions.
It did not help.
After his fall Thursday night, Abbott stayed down on the ice for several seconds. But he got up, gritted it out and finished. He scored 72.58 points, well shy of the U.S. record 99.86 he delivered at the national championships in Boston.
"When I stood up, I could hear the crowd screaming for me, and I knew I had to finish," said Abbott, 28, who is in his final competitive season. "I my mind I was thinking, 'Do I go to the referee? Do I keep going? Am I done?'
"I was very confused, and I was in a lot of pain, but I heard the crowd and I knew I had to do it for them. I wanted to skate a clean program tonight. I let myself down in the team event."
Abbott hurt his right hip on the crash. "We'll see how I feel in a couple of hours. I'm sure I'm in a lot of pain later tonight," he said.
Brown said he also took inspiration from Abbott.
"I'm really proud of Jeremy for going out there and fighting. His recovery is something we should all be inspired by and all should look up to because it's really incredible," said Brown.
Brown faced his own challenges in his first individual event in the Olympics. He said he drew support from his family and teammates.
"It's incredible. The fact that 18 of my relatives flew out to come and support me," said Brown. " … And I've become so close with the other U.S. team members in the past three weeks, bonding over coming to the Olympics and texting every day.''
He won over the skating savvy Russian crowd, which clapped and cheered.
"Having the support in the stands was huge for me,'' he said.
Where it counts, he also got the approval of the judges.
"I really do believe that each time I go out to perform this program it's gotten better," said Brown. "I'm really excited that the scores show that because sometimes you feel that you did the absolute best, and it's not as high as other scores that weren't as good (as far his actual performance).
"So I definitely think this was my skate. Every time I step on the ice for my short program, it just becomes stronger."
Even without the quad.
"The quad is usually a point getter, of course," said Brown. "Because I don't do one, I have to do everything else well and get as many points as possible with the elements I do."
The quad again proved Abbott's undoing. But he kept skating.
"My story has always been about perseverance and getting up and pushing through when you fall down," said Abbott, who earned a bronze in the team event. "Maybe I'm not an Olympic champion, but maybe my story can teach people how to do the same."