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'Star' search

Source: Quad-City Times
Date: February 21, 2002
Author: David Burke

If pairs skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier want to convert their controversial Olympic gold to a professional career, they'll have plenty of lessons to learn, says a fellow Canadian.

"You have to start taking care of yourself as a professional. You have to take responsibility for getting to the rink every night with the ability to perform every single night in different situations," says skater Kurt Browning, a two-time Olympian. "(There's) no more coach, really. No more consistency in your routine. Unusual expectations of your time and energy. A family shows up with a child dying of cancer, you need to spend an hour with them. You never know what sort of weird thing is going to be thrown in your day.

"And then, 16,000 people expect you to be the star of the show."

Browning has been among the stars of Stars on Ice for seven years, after placing fifth in the 1994 Olympics. The tour makes its first post-Olympics stop at The Mark of the Quad-Cities on Tuesday night.

In a phone interview a few weeks ago from Kansas City, the last pre-Olympic stop before the tour, Browning was confident that stars would emerge from the Salt Lake City games.

"The Olympics will provide stars. It's up to the person who wins to decide how they want to represent the sport," he said. "Someone like Kristi (Yamaguchi) who is an icon and steps up to the plate and represents her sport well is rare. Not too man of those kind of peoplel go around."

Yamaguchi is in her 10th year with Stars on Ice. The roster of skaters also includes Tara Lipinski, Katarina Witt, Ilia Kulik and Steven Cousins.

Browning said American skaters are more competitive than ever.

"It just seems like the U.S. ladies are so very strong, which is typical of the U.S., but at the same time they're strong but young," he said. "Michelle (Kwan) is being challenged by some young, young skaters we expect to stick around for the next four years. That's exciting for skating. They're going to be fantastic contributors in skating."

The first half of the tour, with 27 stops from Nov. 24 to Feb. 6, were better than expected, Browning said, although admitting attendance did slip at some spots from one year to the next.

"We didn't know what to expect with Sept. 11 and our hairless leader, Scott (Hamilton), gone this year, the first time it's gone out without him," Browning said. "We've been hoping for the best, and it's gone well."

Hamilton, a charter member of the tour, left after farewell performances last year, and now his job duties include skating commentator for the Olympics. Browning said part of Hamilton's leadership has fallen upon him "just through osmosis," since he's "the oldest, single solo male with a skating style kind of like Scott's."

"Some of the responsibilities have come my way, but it's always been set up that Stars on Ice doesn't need a leader," he said. "Emotionally, it's Kristi's year to be the leader. It's her 10th year, and she may not be here next year. She's the one we're looking at in leading the Stars on Ice tour, for sure."

At 35, Browning said the younger generation of skaters has more opportunities for a better transition from amateur work to a professional tour like Stars on Ice.

The stars you're seeing out there at the Olympics get the opportunity to do more tours than I did at my generation. I would compete and get to do some shows, but not with professionals, and not surrounded by lights and big rigs and that big-show attitude," he said. "They're not only learning to compete at a big-league level, they're also learning to perform at a world level."

Browning's early time on the tour was difficult, he said..

"Scott Hamilton held my hand for many years," he said. "There were days I would knock on his door and just look at him and go, 'I don't think I can do this.' But you learn tricks. You learn how to do it."

This year's program includes solo numbers by Browning to U2's "Elevation" and a song written for him by Ed Robertson, guitarist for the Canadian pop-rock band Barenaked Ladies.

There's also a novelty number where Browning, Cousins and Denis Petrov dance on the ice using tables.

"When you're trying to win worlds and go on tour, you're never thinking, 'I'm skating with a table," he said.

While he is an elder statesman in skating, Browning said he's unsure of how long he'll stay on the ice.

"One (year) for sure," he said. "Then, we'll talk. A long talk with my knees and my back."