Nearly two weeks after the USA won bronze in the figure skating team event, Highland Park's Jason Brown still can't believe he's an Olympic medalist.
"(It) still doesn't feel real," the 19-year-old Brown told the Daily Herald in an email from Sochi.
Brown competed in two Olympic events: team and men's singles. He finished ninth in the latter event, a remarkable feat for a first-time Olympian in a very competitive field.
During both programs, TV commentators and fans marveled at how much fun the ponytailed Brown seemed to be having as he skated. Despite a few missteps, he never stopped smiling.
The world noticed.
"People don't remember the falls. They'll remember the smile," said Molly Anderson, a friend from Northfield who was among the hundreds of fans who cheered for Brown last week at a viewing party in Highland Park's Centennial Ice Arena.
As he prepares to head home from Russia, Brown spoke with the Daily Herald about his Olympic performances, winning the medal and the extraordinary support he's received from family, friends and strangers during the games.
Q, You're 19, at your first Olympics, and you medaled. That's got to be surreal.
A. It was beyond surreal and truly such an indescribable feeling, which still doesn't feel real! I was hit by a flood of emotion in the moment once I was up on the Olympic podium with my teammates, but I'm back to that feeling of, 'Did this really happen?' To be up on the medal stand with my teammates and receive the Olympic bronze medal was a moment I will never forget. As I stood up onstage with seven amazing athletes, I suddenly realized what I was fortunate enough to be a part of. I was surrounded by seven U.S. National Champions. These are the people who inspire me and whom I've looked up to for years. They're my role models, my friends, and my heroes ... and now, and forever, my teammates! The culmination of that realization, along with feeling the weight of my medal around my neck and standing on the podium, seeing my parents, coach, team leaders, and staff screaming, cheering, and crying from the audience, and the burning torch lighting up the sky in front of us brought me to tears.
Q. Everyone I know -- and I mean everyone -- has marveled at your poise, your smile, and how much fun you seemed to have during your programs. Some of the other skaters look so serious, but you seem to be having fun. Tell me about that, about your mindset on the ice.
A. Wow! Thank you so much. That really means a lot. I just absolutely love to skate. I love to train, I love to be at the rink for hours on end, and I love more than anything, to perform! I work so hard every single day either with my coaches or alone at the rink in front of empty bleachers, that when I get the opportunity to skate in front of a crowd and represent my country, it just brings me so much joy!
Q. You finished ninth last Friday in the men's figure skating event. Out of medal contention, but certainly one of the best in the world. How does that feel?
A. It definitely was a bit disappointing coming off that final skate because I knew I could have skated better. But to finish in the Top 10 was truly a thrill! It's crazy to look back a year ago when I was eighth at the U.S. Championships to now being ninth at the Winter Olympic Games. It just makes me that much more excited for the years to come.
Q. People were chanting "Four more years" after the viewing party in Highland Park. Will you try to compete again in 2018?
A. I take my skating one day at a time, and we typically make a yearly plan. Of course I would love to compete in as many Olympics as possible after having such a great experience here in Sochi, and I will do everything possible to continue to grow as an athlete so I can be ready to represent Team USA in four years at the next Winter Olympic Games in Korea!
Q. Your parents, siblings and a ton of relatives were in Sochi to root for you. That's just amazing. Do you skate better knowing they're there?
A. I love my family's support more than anything! It is always such a great feeling knowing that they are in the crowd! I really can't say I skate better or worse when they are there because at least someone from my family is at every event I do.
Q. You've got the love of your hometown. What do you want to tell the people of Highland Park and the Chicago area?
A. The outpouring of support from my community has been more than I could have ever imagined. I feel so extremely lucky to have been raised in Highland Park, and be a part of such a warm, loving, family oriented community. I'm so proud to be a Giant, and to have taken my first steps on the ice at the Centennial Ice Arena! I can't wait to go home and see all my family and friends. (I) miss you guys so much!