After an 'Absolutely Stunning' Routine, Olympic Medalist Jason Brown Makes Final Beijing Appearance

"Really, really I'm so proud of the career that I've had in the sport, but there's that piece of knowing that you're not quite finished yet," Jason Brown tells PEOPLE

Rebuilding the foundation, redecorating the house, refueling the oil to relight the fire: Whatever metaphor you want to use (and he has plenty to offer himself), Jason Brown has returned to the Winter Games a different skater than he was eight years ago.

"From a 19-year-old now to being 27, you go through a lot of changes," the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist in the skating team event tells PEOPLE. "I found my plumber, I found my architect, I found the best wallpaperist," he quips.

He also cut his social media-famous ponytail and, more personally, announced he is gay.

"It started out 100 percent as looking for this personal growth and trying to kind of find that inner strength and inner belief in myself," he says of his evolution in and outside of the rink. "And then from there, it expanded into more and more."

Brown, an Illinois native, is not looking to have the same kind of Olympics as his U.S. teammate Nathan Chen. (For one, he doesn't spin off the kind of quadruple jumps that are now usually required to make it onto the podium.) But he's reaping his own rewards, starting with making it back to the Games after failing to be named to the team in 2018.

Now in Beijing, he's ready to show the world his skating on his own terms. On Wednesday night (Eastern), he'll compete in the second half of the men's individual event.

Jason Brown
Figure skater Jason Brown competes in the Beijing Winter Olympics. Matthew Stockman/Getty

"Really, really I'm so proud of the career that I've had in the sport, but there's that piece of knowing that you're not quite finished yet. That you haven't quite exhausted all the options or the path to take or the programs that you wanted to explore," he says.

Brown's artistry has already made its mark: Skating to Nina Simone's "Sinnerman" for his short program earlier this week, Brown ranked sixth — despite his lack of quads. "It's about hitting every note and every beat and being kind of immersed in the performance of it," he explains.

And it worked: His presentation score was the second-highest of all competitors, behind only Chen.

It was the kind of program, fellow Olympic medalist Jeremy Abbott told PEOPLE, that "not a single one of those other men could possibly skate."

"Absolutely stunning," Abbott said of Brown's artistry.

Next up is a long program that Brown will skate to music from Schindler's List. "It's very much a piece filled with a lot of emotion. I think when people watch, I really want them to feel moved by the story that I'm portraying," he says.

Brown spoke with PEOPLE in January, shortly before leaving for China. Below, in his own words, he looks back at his career so far, how he's evolved and what he'll treasure — and what's next. (Spoiler: a break!)

Bouncing back from the last Games

"In 2018, I really felt broken. It was like the foundation of the house was there, but it had completely collapsed, you know? So it still had the cement — the base, solid as a rock. But the whole house that was on top of it, kind of crumbled. And I think it's one of those moments where you can either say 'I'm walking away' or 'I'm rebuilding this house.' And you kind of become that architect and say, 'How do I want to rebuild this from the ground up?' And I think that's what we did.

"We [tried] different things. I mixed up a lot. And I think we just slowly started putting that house together, brick by brick. Some of the rooms were remodeled along the way. COVID did its own number as well, but I think it's been a lot of just trying to stay open-minded and flexible and adaptable and taking every single kind of roadblock along the way and looking at it as a challenge and something that I can learn from and grow from even more versus hitting it where it hurts.

"There were still things that I wanted to prove to myself and I knew I was capable of doing."

Jason Brown
Jason Brown at a 2020 competition. Matthew Stockman/Getty

Riding the emotional roller coaster

"You go through like the seven stages of grief. I've been in the sport for so long that I think I've gone through every stage a lot on the way, and I've dealt with each one.

"I think sometimes you don't know, 'Am I going to be able to get out of this hole that I dug myself?' I got out of the hole. Okay. 'Am I going to be able to top feeling the success that I had when I had a certain amount of success or excitement?' You know what, tough, but I'm learning how to find that success in a different kind of ways.

"I think I'm at that acceptance kind of portion of the journey, where I have given it my all and every single step of the way I have given my whole heart and soul to this sport: to the fans, to trying to become the best athlete and artist that I can become. I think that there's just this piece of acceptance and it's just about now."

The importance of performance and pushing the limits

"We're in such a crazy time right now that it's like, if you can find the little joys along the way and if you can inspire a couple people and you can bring a smile to their face, mission accomplished.

"The way that people are pushing the sport, technically [with quadruple jumps] I'm trying every single day to counter that and push the sport artistically. And when I say counter, obviously I'm also striving to be the best technician I can possibly be. But I do think that there is definitely … I fell in love with the sport because of the artistry and there was something about performing that drew me in and I want to be, kind of in a way, a beacon for people to know that they have a spot for them in the sport, if they love to perform.

"If the technical side is a little more difficult, like you can maximize the system in a different way and you can make your mark. I think for so long I felt devalued and I felt like I wasn't good enough or not deserving because I lacked that technical content.

"Anything can happen on that day. Ice is ice. The blades are thin. I mean, who knows?"

Jason Brown
Figure skater Jason Brown competes in the Beijing Winter Olympics. Jean Catuffe/Getty

What's next

"It's hard to imagine a final event. That being said, I think there's also this sense of when I finished my skates at [the national championships in January], there was this sense of calm within me in the sense of like I have given it all I have. All I have to this sport. And I'm so proud of that. And I think that there was this sense of acknowledgment of just feeling … I don't want to use the word 'content' because that sounds very like, 'Oh, I'm fine with it.' There was this sense of just gratefulness of everything that I've gone through and a weird sense of finality.

"I've had that internal feeling of I have more to give. And an Olympic year is so trying as it is, so it's like you almost end the year filled — but also tanked. So I think it's going to be one of those feelings of definitely having a lot of conversations with my team and kind of process that and see where we're at and how I want to move forward and what that could look like. But we'll address that Feb. 28.

As for his downtime...

"Do I have much of a personal life? No. Just in the sense of, especially in the last couple years with COVID everyone just being super, kind of, focused on that. And typically I'll travel at the end of the season. I haven't really done much of that because travel is really off the table. Am I looking forward to it? Yes. Very, very single, but definitely excited to kind of explore that personal side once the Games have concluded or once it's safe to do so."

To learn more about Team USA, visit Watch the Winter Olympics, now, and the Paralympics, beginning March 4, on NBC.

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