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Source: Austin American-Statesman
Date: January 24, 1997
Author: Suzanne Halliburton

Copyright 1997 The Austin American-Statesman

Stars On Ice

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday--*WHERE: Travis County Exposition Center--*TICKETS: Tickets for $35 and $25 are available from --the University of Texas Ticketmaster. Call (512) 477-6060.

WHO: Kristi Yamaguchi, Scott Hamilton, Jayne Torvill and Christopher D--ean, Paul Wylie, Kurt Browning, Elena Bechke and Denis Petrov, Rosalynn Sumners, Radka Kovarikova and Rene Novotny, Jill Trenary and Ekaterina Gordeeva.

Kurt Browning finds himself in the ever-popular world of figure skating at just the right time.

A decade ago, mainstream America tended to forget those figure skaters they fell in love with at the Winter Olympics, although the athletes were presented up close and personal for a fortnight every four years.

Now these figure skaters are everywhere. Their amateur and Olympic lives are long behind them, but they perform in numerous tours, like Discover's Stars on Ice, which stops Saturday at the Travis County Expo Center, and compete at a dozen or so major professional competitions.

Fox and CBS in particular have created several made-for-television skating competitions to take advantage of the sport's popularity. CBS did so because it lost the right to show the National Football League and it needed something to fill up its Sunday afternoon lineups. A prime-time special on Fox last week, which featured seven pro skaters performing routines to rock music and judged by such authorities as Olympic gold-medal swimmer Amy Van Dyken, model Kim Alexis and gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi, drew 12.2 million viewers.

Browning finished second to Scott Hamilton during the rock 'n' roll competition.

Used to be, drawing a (viewership) like that only happened at the Olympics and once in your life,'' said Browning, who will perform Saturday in Austin to a medley of Nat King Cole songs. The number has drawn standing ovations at every Stars on Ice tour stop.

It's staggering to think how popular skating has gotten,'' he said. I'm pretty darn lucky to be skating right now. Used to be, the opportunity to perform and work wasn't there.''

The 30-year-old Browning, a native of Canada, concedes that during his amateur career, he usually pulled off about one perfect competition a year, that being the world championships. He was a four-time world champion, but although he was favored to win an Olympic gold medal, he never did so. His mistakes allowed other skaters to take that glory.

But because viewership is so high, particularly among women, Browning has become one of the most popular skaters among the professionals despite his lack of Olympic hardware. He has won the last two world pro championships, and he's considered the best overall skater in the world.

He started out his athletic career as a hockey player. But since then he has combined his athleticism -- he was the first skater ever to land a quadruple jump in competition -- with a grace that has made him unbeatable in pro events. He's known for his intricate footwork and a rapport with the audience. He won his first world pro title skating to the Commodores' Brick House.''

The exhibitions he skates still are athletic -- he throws in five triple jumps, about two fewer than he did when he was an amateur -- and he also plans to work more on the quadruple once the Stars on Ice tour ends in late March.

Pro skating also is paying more, although it doesn't compare yet to football, baseball or basketball. Browning picked up $50,000 for winning the 1996 pro title. And the highest paycheck to date was earned by Hamilton, who got $400,000 for winning an event.

Eventually, I can work my way up to being a millionaire,'' Browning said.