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Icing on the cake: ‘Stars on Ice’ tour gives U.S. figure skaters a special way to cap an Olympic season

UPDATED: Fri., May 27, 2022

It’s been 12 years since Jason Brown first came to Spokane and won a junior title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Since 2010, the Illinois-raised skater has won a host of national and international metals, claimed the U.S. men’s championship in 2015, skated in two Olympic Games, winning team bronze in one of them, and become a fan favorite on the circuit for his artistic skating style.

Brown will be back in Spokane on Friday night, along with other skating luminaries such as the reigning Olympic champion Nathan Chen, bronze-winning ice dancers Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, as well as Vincent Zhou, Alysa Liu, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier and Mirai Nagasu for “Stars on Ice.”

For Brown, there is nothing like celebrating the end of an Olympic season with a “Stars on Ice” tour.

“There is nothing more special than ‘Stars on Ice’ in an Olympic year,” Brown said from his home in Chicago. “You have all of this excitement amongst the cast. We’ve been traveling around the world, we’re coming off the most stressful year, and ‘Stars on Ice’ is an opportunity where we can just let down our guard and perform in such a lighthearted, stress-free environment. All of us get to be around each other and bond and share our love of the sport with fans around the country.”

And after missing the past two years because of COVID-19, the return of “Stars on Ice” in 2022 is even more appealing.

“This tour this year is especially special because the last two years we’ve been performing and competing in empty arenas in front of literal cardboard cutouts,” Brown said. “The fact we’re getting to tour the country and to these 24 shows in these six weeks in front of real people, we’re just over the moon and just so excited to be doing it together.”

The show features a mixture of choreographed numbers created especially for the show skated to songs by performers including AC/DC, the Weeknd and Jon Batiste, with some of the skaters’ competition pieces. Chen, for instance, has adapted his “Rocketman” free skate, which secured his gold medal in Beijing, and it kicks off a finale that Brown calls spectacular. Brown is doing a version of his short program, “Sinnerman,” by Nina Simone.

“For me that’s been one of the highlights of this tour,” Brown said. “I haven’t gotten to perform it for people as much as I would have loved to. … So, the fact that I have this opportunity to every single weekend be out in front of a crowd doing this program that I’ve worked so hard on, to get to share that with people is the greatest feeling.”

Ice dancers Jean-Luc Baker and Kaitlin Hawayek, who finished 11th overall in their first Olympic Games, will perform in the tour’s final seven shows as special guest skaters. The winners of four consecutive bronze medals at U.S. nationals will perform a newer number they debuted in Japan during their “Stars on Ice” tour, “Black and Gold” by Sam Sparro.

“It’s upbeat, and we brought something fun with our costumes to keep things interesting and to our standard of entertainment when it comes to gala numbers,” Haweyek said.

For Baker, the trip to the Northwest is a homecoming. While he and Hawayek have been based in Montreal for the past four years, Baker was raised in Edmonds and grew up in the Seattle Skating Club. After Friday’s show in Spokane, they will continue with the tour to Seattle and Portland.

“I have so many of my friends coming to that show, it’s going to be a riot,” he said.

For them, part of the joy of joining “Stars on Ice” is getting to hang out with their fellow skaters. The skaters spend years competing against each other, but it doesn’t stop them from forming deep friendships. Baker said one of the highlights of his first trip to the Olympics was watching one of his best friends, Chen, win an Olympic title.

“It was so, so cool. He and I had roomed together so many times. Just watching him grow up and strive for the excellence that he does, not accepting anything but the best, it was so cool,” Baker said. “Kaitlin and I had a practice 20 minutes later, and we were trying so hard to stay focused for our practice because of the emotions that we had. We had tears in our eyes, we were screaming, I lost my voice. Just to see him fulfill everything he deserves was truly phenomenal.”

Brown also spoke to how close the particular group of skaters is. They have a level of respect for each other that has translated into admiration and appreciation.

“I think there’s this great camaraderie and appreciation and support for one another,” Brown said. “I think it has to do with the fact that we have all been in it for so long. This particular group of athletes, a lot of us, this is our second Olympics, a lot of us we achieved what we wanted in the sport, or at the end of our careers, and it’s the opportunity to celebrate.”

Baker and Hawayek agreed.

“It does make it it really exciting to be able to see everyone we got to share our experiences with at the Olympics,” Baker said. “I think it’s going to be really fun to be reunited with all of them, knowing that some of them are retiring and some are going on to the next chapter of their lives. I think it will be fun to celebrate the last performances they’ll get to have. I’m sure some of them will have individual shows, but all of us realistically together again will be really, really exciting.”

Ice dancers Hubble and Donohue, who took bronze in Beijing and silver at the world championships weeks later, announced plans to retire at the end of this season. And while there has been some speculation that Brown, now 27, will soon retire from competitive skating, he is not thinking about it at this point.

He knows he will continue working toward a college degree – he’s a junior at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs – he also plans to stay on the ice.

“Right now, I’m in that mode where I’m going month to month. Obviously, I’ve always planned out four years in advance and looked toward those next steps,” he said. “For now, it’s thinking about being open to various different opportunities and options, but planning things as they come. For now, I have through the summer mapped out, doing a bunch of different shows, continuing to perform and really loving getting to do that. I’m going to do a couple of tours in Japan, and that’s really the main thing.”

“It’s a great question,” he added. “But maybe ask me in a couple months.”

In the meantime, he’s looking forward to returning to Spokane, where he won that first national title and competed in the Team Challenge Cup in 2016.

“I have had the best experiences in Spokane,” he said. “For me, it’s the audience, as well. So receptive, so supportive. I just had the best time getting to perform in front of such an amazing crowd.”

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