GREENSBORO, North Carolina — Jason Brown gushed to Adam Rippon: "Oh my god, it was amazing."
He turned to Joshua Farris, his skating rival for nearly a decade, and told him, "It's just so cool to continue to grow together."
Brown won his first U.S. title Sunday when Rippon's stellar long program couldn't make up a big deficit and Farris' mistake may have cost him the championship. All three were still beaming afterward, a breakthrough performance for each competitor.
The 20-year-old Brown, the runner-up a year ago to earn an Olympic berth, handled the pressure of being the favorite with aplomb. Leading Rippon by 8.65 points after the short program, Brown had no massive mistakes in the free skate to finish with 274.98 points, a record for the event and enough to beat Rippon by 2.5.
"I was just checking it off the list and performing to the audience," Brown said.
Rippon became the first man to win back-to-back world junior titles in 2009. But he had struggled to live up to that promise in the senior ranks — as he put it, "some hopeless old skater who used to have a lot of potential."
Rippon, 25, had just one medal at the U.S. Championships before Sunday, a silver in 2012, and was eighth last year.
That was when he told coach Rafael Arutyunyan he didn't like competing and didn't know what he wanted to do next.
Arutyunyan "looked me dead straight in the eyes," Rippon recalled, "and he said, 'Buddy, you need to figure it out.'"
Rippon did some choreography over the summer — including best friend Ashley Wagner's short program, which helped her win the women's title here. But this week, "something completely changed in my mind" about his own skating.
"I wasn't half in it anymore," he said. "I was fully invested."
Rippon frequently changed coaches in the past but found stability with Arutyunyan, who also guided Wagner to a dominant victory. Known more for his artistry than his jumping throughout his career, Rippon realized he needed to up the difficulty of his programs. That was why he added the quad lutz.
"I came into this week kind of feeling that I had been written off. I really wanted to change that talk about me," he said. "I wanted to come here and I wanted people to see me as a champion.
"I feel like a champion today."
The quad was downgraded by the judges Sunday, though Rippon landed eight triple jumps perfectly. But he had been in fifth place after the short program, when he lost out on points for spins that were too short.
On Sunday, he was both technically sharp and lyrically refined. As soon as the music ended, Rippon screamed and shook both hands in front of him. He choked back tears after his free skate score of 187.77, a U.S. Championships record that temporarily put him in first.
Brown landed with two feet on his second triple axel but had eight triples overall, and his 181.62 points were enough to overtake Rippon.
Farris skated last and performed well enough to potentially pass Brown. He completed a quad toe loop, with a small deduction for an extra turn on the landing.
But on his first combination, he did a double toe loop instead of a triple. That meant he received no credit for his final combination because it was his third different double toe.
Asked later if he was kicking himself for the miscue, Farris let his head fall to the table.
"To be honest, yes," he said. "I mean, who wouldn't?"
But the 20-year-old is going to his first world championships, and he is proud of how he landed seven triples even though he spun through the air at a crooked angle on several of them.
"I fought through that whole entire program," he said.
Defending champion Jeremy Abbott dropped from third to fifth after falling twice during the long program. The 29-year-old Abbott had planned to retire after last season, when he won his fourth U.S. title, but rethought those plans. He hasn't decided what he'll do next.
Max Aaron, the 2013 champion, was fourth despite landing two quad salchows Sunday. But he earned far fewer points than the top three for his choreography and style.
Brown proved he could win a U.S. title without a quad. But it will be another thing to contend at the world championships in Shanghai in March if he doesn't add one before then.