||Rochester Democrat & Chronicle Weekend|
||March 21, 1996|
They make it easy. It isn't.
The skaters in the Discover Card Stars on Ice tour will perform in
55 cities in three months. Tonight they'll flash their blades before a
sold-out audience at Rochester's Community War Memorial.
When Scott Hamilton originated this show a decade ago, the nine
skaters performed in five cities. It was a departure from the ice
shows of the past, with less chorus-line glitz and more emphasis on
The following year, the tour included 30 stops. The current tour is
the longest ever.
"It's a hard job," says Canadian Kurt Browning, the four-time world
men's figure skating champion who's making his second Stars on Ice
tour. The day we talked on the telephone, Browning was in Roanoke,
Va. Although his fiancee from Toronto was visiting - or maybe because
of that - Browning sounded just a wee bit homesick.
"It's a tough time right now," he said, "not close enough to the
end to see the light at the end of the tunnel." Being on the road
takes a mental and physical toll. Little things become problems.
"I'm trying to break in new skates and they're not working," he
says. "If I were home..."
Not that he's complaining. It's a great time to be on ice.
Skaters have become media stars. For example, Oksana Baiul, the
teenage sensation from Ukraine, reportedly earns $3 million a year.
(She will appear in Rochester next month in the almost-sold-out
Campbell's Soups 1996 Tour of World Figure Skating Champions.)
According to ABC, television coverage of figure skating has
expanded from 18 hours in 1990 to 107 hours in 1995. It's especially
attractive to female viewers - a much sought-after audience.
Of sports on TV, only football has more fans. That explains the
growing number of ice competitions and exhibitions on TV - like the
Fox network's two-hour Rock 'n Roll Skating Championship in
January. Browning was a commentator last year for the first one, and
came back as commentator and competitor "because it was so much fun."
The show captured 20 million viewers.
Olympic gold medalist Katarina Witt, another Stars on Ice
headliner, had her own HBO special last Sunday, Ice Princess
(it repeats at 2 p.m. Saturday and at 1 and 10:45p.m. on March 29 on
Time Warner Communications Channel 14). And Browning has had two
prime-time specials and a home video.
This week, fans are focused on the skating world's biggest annual
event, the World Championships, taking place in Edmonton, Alberta.
ABC reportedly is charging $125,000 for a 30-second commercial during
the prime-time broadcasts tonight and Saturday (see accompanying
story), a price that is just under the rate for Melrose Place.
Browning, whose hometown of Caroline, Alberta, happens to be
halfway between Edmonton and Calgary, says he doesn't miss the Worlds
or even Olympics competitions at this point in his career.
"I sort of did that," says the first skater to successfully
complete a quadruple jump at the Worlds. Right now, he's happy with
the way his career is taking off. "I've always wanted to be a
He enjoyed his stint as a skating commentator. "I was surprised,"
he says. "You're involved not only in your own performance, but in
Because skating hovers between sport and art form, many of the new
programs are competitions. But one of the most memorable recent
events - for skaters and for viewers - was last month's tribute to
Sergei Grinkov, who died last November. The nationally televised
program featured the first solo performance by Ekaterina Gordeeva,
Grinkov's widow and partner, since his death. Browning, who toured
with the Olympic gold medal-winning pair last year, performed along
with other members of the Stars on Ice cast.
"It was pretty powerful to be there," he says. "We all get a lot
of strength from her."
Browning believes interest in skating hasn't peaked yet. But, he
says, skaters and promoters must generate "new products for different
markets" to keep their audience. That puts a lot of pressure on
skaters. Between touring and appearing in television specials, it's
difficult to find time to develop new routines.
"It's a Catch-22 in a way," he says. "Exposure is good, but it's
tough to come up with new material.
"But we're really excited. Our market is growing."