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From Mishaps to Magic

Ode to Kurt: Browning Discovers' triumph at last

Stylish skater no longer is down on either his luck or the ice

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Date: February 9, 1996
Author: Cathy Breitenbucher

Copyright 1996 Journal Sentinel Inc.

When the world was watching the Olympics, he was battling physical and psychological problems. And just as figure skating moved into the post-Nancy/Tonya bonanza of big-money professional competitions, he was troubled by uncomfortable skating boots.

Today, however, Kurt Browning is fit from his head to his toe picks, giving his many fans cause to celebrate. Once again, one of the sport's most personable entertainers is getting the chance to shine.

"I had some pretty good years as an amateur, but it's not as rewarding day-to-day as it is as a pro," said Browning, preparing for two Wisconsin appearances with Discover Card Stars on Ice Sunday and Monday. "My performance level is much higher this year."

Browning appreciates the peaks because he's seen the valleys. He was a three-time world champion entering the 1992 Olympics, but a slipped disk two months before the Games resulted in a sixth-place finish.

He regained his form and won another world title in 1993, only to falter in the '94 Games. Two falls during the warm-ups rattled his confidence, leading to an uncharacteristic fall and a watered-down jump in the technical program. That sent Browning sinking to 12th place, though he did manage to lift himself to fifth in the final standings.

"That's what the Olympics is all about, and that's what made it interesting," said Browning.

Browning joined the Stars cast for its 1994-'95 season and participated in several professional meets.

His skating, however, was uneven; he was brilliant in the tour's Milwaukee stop, but he struggled with his jumps in competitions.

"I got a new pair of skates last year, and they just wouldn't break in," he mused. "Later, we found out they had been made back in '88 and they had sat on the shelf all that time. They were dry, and they just wouldn't break in.

"It was a lot of bad luck. It's almost like a mold in your fridge it just keeps growing."

Eventually, the skating boots became more comfortable. And several conversations with fellow Stars skater Scott Hamilton convinced Browning that the funk wouldn't last forever.

"He's a smart man and a good friend," Browning said of Hamilton, "and he helped me turn things around."

This season, Browning became the first man to defeat Olympic winner Brian Boitano in the history of the NutraSweet World Professional Championships. The gyrating, high-energy number that won Browning the title was skated to the Commodores' "Brick House," a contrast to his stylish "Casablanca" 1994 Olympic program. Browning says he enjoys surprising the skating world with his musical selections.

"I try really hard not to be one type of skater. I choreographed a Romeo and Juliet number, and someone with Stars on Ice said, Now that you're on a classical kick, I guess you won't be wanting to skate to 'Brick House.' "

Browning, 29, admires much about Hamilton but has no intention of emulating the 1984 Olympic champion's longevity.

"I don't think I want to be on tour six, seven months a year when I'm 37. I hope I'll be more of a family person. But the next three to four years, I'll go as hard as I can."

In fact, Browning squeezed in his interview between flights as he rejoined the tour after a weekend in Toronto, where he'll marry Sonia Rodriguez next summer.

The death of pairs skater Sergei Grinkov, which occurred just before the Stars tour began, added to Browning's perspective on the relative importance of skating.

"Sergei and (wife) Katia (Gordeeva) represent the perfection on the ice all of us reach for that never, ever touching the ice or looking for one another or making it look like work," said Browning. "A lot of people think it's glamorous touring, but it's tough to have relationships, and off the ice, they were really, really, truly happy."

GRAPHIC: Photo

Kurt Browning says he tries not to be one kind of skater, feeling free to glide to the classics or "Brick House."