SOCHI, Russia —Jason Brown met Evgeni Plushenko at an Olympic practice, and the Russian great said he was a big fan of the American teen.
Brown, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs freshman who bubbles with enthusiasm even in the most mundane of conversations, recounted his reaction as: "What?! No, no, no, I'm such a huge fan of yours."
Brown isn't sure how Plushenko knows about him, but it's very possible he's one of the more than 3.8 million hits on the YouTube video of the 19-year-old's free skate at the U.S. Championships. Brown will do the program again Friday at the Sochi Games, and if he can match that electric performance from Boston last month, he just could win an Olympic medal.
The men's free program started at 8 a.m. MST. Brown, sixth after the short program, will skate last of the 24 skaters Friday.
On the day the 31-year-old Plushenko made his exit from the sport, withdrawing before his short program because of an injured back, the future had already arrived. Another 19-year-old, Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu, was the best skater on the ice, seizing first place with a record-setting score Thursday.
Brown isn't yet in Hanyu's area code, but he made the most of his repertoire. He doesn't do a quad jump, supposedly a necessity for an Olympic medal these days. And yet he's less than a point out of third place in a packed race for bronze.
All the other contenders for bronze do quads, and they're more experienced than Brown, who is in his first season competing internationally at the senior level.
But as he proved Thursday, that's no guarantee they'll finish ahead of him. His short program to Prince's "The Question of U" was a primer on how he can still rack up so many points. His intricate footwork meshes perfectly with every note, his spins are exquisite. In his purple shirt with Prince's "love symbol" in rhinestones on the back, he could have been the pop star onstage connecting with the fans in the stadium's back row.
When Denis Ten and Javier Fernandez, the silver and bronze medalists at last year's world championships, and reigning Olympic bronze medalist Daisuke Takahashi all made mistakes after him, Brown was squarely in the mix with a personal-best 86.00 points.
Hanyu leads with 101.45 points, while three-time world champ Patrick Chan is second with 97.52. Takahashi, Germany's Peter Liebers, France's Brian Joubert and China's Yan Han also are all within 1.32 points of Fernandez's third-place score of 86.98.
So once again it comes down to Brown's free skate to music from "Riverdance." That performance at nationals earned him a spot on the Olympic team when he moved up to second — and it made him a social media sensation.
An unknown outside the figure skating community before the U.S. Championships, Brown suddenly had TV cameras at his rink every day.
"I kept reiterating, 'I want to do what I train; I want to go out there and stay calm,'" Brown said. "That practice of being so mentally in check and having the same questions be asked over and over again with the media, I think that's really helped. When I come here, the cameras aren't daunting."
The cameras will be all over him Friday if he takes the ice with an Olympic medal in reach.