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Catching up with Kurt Browning

Skater would love do "Stars on Ice" for 20 years

Kurt Browning was the first to land the quad in competition, and he did it for a car.
Kurt Browning was the first to land the quad in competition, and he did it for a car. (Getty Images)

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By Laurie Nealin, special to icenetwork.com
(04/28/2008) - Canadian legend Kurt Browning, 42, is taking a page out of Scott Hamilton's Stars on Ice book as he nears the end of his performing career. In the midst of crossing Canada for the 18th time with the northern version of the Stars tour, the four-time world champion talked with icenetwork.com about his career longevity, memories of the 1988 Olympic Games, being nostalgic, tree-trunk legs, and his own goals for the 2010 Olympic season.

As always, the ever-popular athlete who landed the first-ever quad in competition in 1988 was very generous in sharing his thoughts.

You performed in the very first Stars on Ice Canada in 1991 which makes this your 18th year with the show. Your longevity -- being the only original cast member still on tour -- is impressive and your performance level remains so high. How do you do that?

Lately, not very well. I think I'm more of a father than a skater lately. I have a game plan this summer to get some coaching and get back with my trainer to keep people saying what you just said. I want my skating to stay at a level that I can realistically expect of myself, and that makes me happy on the ice ... I'm getting older and I've not been spending the time on the ice and it's starting to chip away at my abilities.

I'd love to have 20 years of Stars on Ice, and I think the longevity comes from having great motivating people around me like [choreographer] Sandra Bezic and Stars on Ice in general.

I just love performing and I love people. I'm just one of the luckiest people in the world to be doing this for a living as my father keeps reminding me. I mean, what's not to love? I just try to keep something that's great, alive and healthy.

So, that's your plan for yourself for 2010; 20 years and that's it?

I don't have a plan. I'm not much for planning but I'd like to have 20 happen. It sounds like a good number, you know.

On this Stars tour, you introduce Jeffrey Buttle as the new world champion. Do you remember what is was like to be announced as the world champion for the first time with Stars on Ice?

I remember being introduced as world champion in the exhibition at worlds [in 1989 in Paris]. I remember hearing the words and they were in French. It was shocking to hear your name in conjunction with those words. I'm having trouble remembering being introduced as world champion with Stars, maybe because I had been world champion for a while [by the time Stars was launched in Canada].

So many men now are capable of being world champion at any drop of the hat. That's quite different than what you were up against, isn't it?

I remember that year [1989], Victor Petrenko and [Alexandr] Fadeev had a really good chance, and Christopher Bowman. I think it was between those three guys. Now, we could easily say five guys, maybe six, push that to seven with the new [judging] system and the caliber of skating having leveled off at the top more than it ever has in the past -- in my generation anyway.

You're just sitting there going, 'Holy crap!' They must be so nervous because they cannot hope their main competitor makes a mistake. They have to hope they skate great and beat five or six guys. These guys really have to earn it because it's not going to be handed to them by anybody.

On the CBC broadcast of worlds after Jeff won you commented that his world was about to change. Were you thinking back to when you won your first title, speaking from experience?

A little bit, but mostly I was thinking that he will have kind of closure on his career forever. I doubt that Jeffrey [Buttle] will ever question anything, ever, in his skating just because he won that thing once, no matter what happens. He will always have this, and be able to hold onto it and feel good about himself. He's already been on the Olympic podium, he's already been on the world's [podium].

When I won the worlds [in 1989], I hadn't been anywhere. I went from eighth at the Olympics -- 15th in the world to first. It was this crazy athlete and everyone went 'Who the hell are you?' For me, it was press [interviews] for about 23 hours straight after I won because everyone was trying to figure out who I was. For Jeff, it was not that kind of change.

Now, he can relax and skate his ass off because he doesn't have to worry about if it's going to happen this time, is it going to happen next time because it's happened before.

Do the 1988 Olympics seem like yesterday or forever ago?

It seems like another person ago. It doesn't seem like forever [ago], sometimes it seems like yesterday. It just seems like the memories are almost someone else's memories because we change so much and, yet, I'm kinda doing the exact same thing. I just feel so different about it. I enjoy different things about it. You become a different human being when you become a parent. I feel so differently about everything.

You know, the four world titles, I've heard those words so many times in the last 20 years that sometimes you forget all the work, the pressure and the nerves, and the crap you went through to win them. They become a sentence instead of an achievement. I have been doing the You Tube thing a little bit, looking for [my old] programs, reminiscing a little bit. Especially having Jeffrey [Buttle] win, that kind of takes me back a little bit. Maybe because it was 20 years ago that the quad happened, that I've just been a little nostalgic lately.

How did it feel to be part of the 1988 Olympic figure skating team that won three of the total five medals won by the entire Canadian team in Calgary?

At the time, we were very, very proud that such a high percentage of the medals came from us [Brian Orser and Elizabeth Manley, silver, Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall, bronze] but at the time, I was also very young and I don't think I had expectations for Canada or the team, and I don't think I really understood what we had accomplished. I was just pretty glad to be at the Olympics, having so much fun [he finished eighth] and it was a really wonderful experience for me. To have so much glory for Canada come from figure skating, it was amazing, but we took it for granted. Yeah, Liz, she's a great skater and Brian, he's the best in the world, and Tracy and Rob were amazing. We took it for granted.

What programs did you decide on for this season's Stars on Ice?

David Wilson did a program for me. I did a show with The Temptations singing live and last year we did "Papa was a Rolling Stone" and it had a very David Wilson twist to it. He's quite a guy. And, I'm doing an old Christopher Dean choreographed program, being near or nearer to the end of my career. Hamilton started pulling old programs out a couple of times to do them again and I liked that. I thought 'Maybe I'll do that' and then I realized it's time, so I'm doing "Ain't No Sunshine" from '97.

And we had a little conversation last night after the show about making it shorter. Christopher thinks that everyone has tree trunks for thighs. Maybe in '97 I could handle this program. I think we're going to try to cut it down a bit.

I wanted ask you, from an athlete's point of view, about the talk of boycotting the Beijing Olympic Games or at least the opening ceremonies, and protesters disrupting the torch run. What's your reaction when you hear what's going on?

I think people make a choice when they choose a city [to host the Olympics]. If the choice were being made to choose China right now, it probably wouldn't go through. Unfortunately, for China, for the Olympics, these things have taken place since that time. I'm sure there was crap going on back then, too, but the biggest stuff has happened since. But what do you do? You're stuck with a huge global focus on a country that is in distress at this moment, and people and countries are going to use that to make a point.

But who gets hurt? It's the athletes. From my point of view, I trained all my life and I wanted to represent my country and that chance goes away. As an athlete, your first response is 'No. No. No, no, no, no, no. Don't do that to me.' If you're a politically-minded person you'll step back and look at what your country is doing and you'll either agree with it or you won't. It's really unfortunate. You're an athlete. You're helpless. You're not a decision-maker.