Kurt Browning

Source: Tracings Magazine, v20 n5
Date: August-September 1995
Author: Monica Friedlander

Asking someone to marry you is one of those little things in life that even the most self-confident people tend to get a wee bit nervous about. Blurting those words out is not the easiest thing in the world even when you do it in the most private and romantic setting. When Kurt Browning decides to do it, however, it happens in front of no less than 16,000 people and a national TV audience.

"What's there to be scared of?" Browning asks matter-of-factly a couple of weeks after proposing to Canadian ballerina Sonia Rodriguez, during the taping of the Stars on Ice show in Toronto's Maple Leaf Garden. "If you ask someone to marry you, it doesn't matter if you ask in front of people or not."

That's Kurt Browning for you: funky, uninhibited, spontaneous, happy-go-lucky and above all, his own man. For all the surprise of the announcement, its delivery is not all that shocking, everything considered. In fact, one can hardly expect anything less from the 29-year-old Canadian. It is precisely this type of nonchalance and top-this-if-you-can type antics that lend Browning his one-of-a-kind star quality and popular appeal. Most of the time young audiences start screaming before he even steps on the ice. His skating speaks for itself, but his audience appeal goes far beyond it.

Both on and off the ice, Browning wins you over with his boundless energy, personal magnetism and sharp sense of humor. As a rule it takes him far less time to produce a string of one liners than to lace up his skates. Asked how his life would be different had he won the Olympics, for example, he quips, "They'd talk longer before I skated."

His skating and his quad may have made Kurt Browning world champion, but his personality is what makes him a star. Most likely, had he chosen a different path in life, he would have landed under the spotlight every bit as much.

"I can't imagine life with no skating," he said. "I can't imagine having stayed home and grown up in the country, starting a family a lot earlier. I can't even picture it, because I'm so accustomed to...you know, 'You've got this gig tomorrow night, it's the Geminis, live television, and you're giving an award.' I'm so used to that and I love that, that I can't imagine anything else." (The Gemini Awards are the Canadian counterpart to the Emmys.)

What Kurt Browning says, in effect, is that he can't imagine not being a star. This is not lack of modesty or presumptuousness on his part, but a simple unpretentious statement of fact. It's who he is. It is hard to imagine someone more in love with life and more open to all the joys it has to offer. And right now, it's hard to imagine anything more it could offer him. Except perhaps...

"I never skated on the moon," he said, after thinking long and hard. Here are some more of his thoughts:

Did you have any doubt about what Sonia's response would be when you proposed to her?

I was sure. I was positive. In fact, after I asked I looked up at her and she put her head down. I wasn't thinking, "Is she going to say yes or not?" I was thinking, "Boy is she going to be mad at me?" But it turned out great.

We've never talked about marriage before. I've been thinking about it. I didn't just whip it out. She said she thought either I was going to ask her some time this year or not for another two or three years. She was surprised. She didn't expect it during this tour at all. Neither did I. I was going to wait till summer, some romantic time. But it's been really fun. All the skaters have been a part of it and she had a lot of family at the show. As it turned out, it was a very warm kind of thing. It was cool. It could have gone the other way, too. But she was happy.

How did you and Sonia meet?

We met at a reception in fall of '91 in Edmonton at the Royal Glenora Club. Actually she wasn't supposed to go. She borrowed their dress and went. And I didn't want to go. I kind of peeked around the corner to see what was going on at the reception and they saw me. They pulled me in. So we met there. The National Ballet came to watch us skate the next day. We went out for lunch the next day, ten of us. Then we went to see their show. Two letters and then I moved to Toronto. She's a fantastic talent.

Does she influence your skating or make suggestions to you about your skating?

Not really. Skaters really are skaters. There are a few who transcend that. Sebastien Britten has a very fluid, very balletic, smooth, proper line and look. Dancers like Annenko and Sretenski can cross over. But basically skaters are skaters and dancers are dancers. We are different. She comes to the rink and works with me. But I don't work with her. I can not tell her what to do. She tells me what to do.

Does she skate?

Oh, yeah. She's got the most beautiful skates you've ever seen. Burgundy suede. But they're not real broken in yet. She's got to learn how to skate.

Ed. note: Sonia Rodriguez, a dancer with the Canadian National Ballet danced in the Canadian TV special The Planets , which starred Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay and Brian Orser. After getting married, she and Browning plan to live in Toronto.)

Do you think a lot about the Olympics?

I don't think about it. I joke about it sometimes. Just like sometimes someone will give Brian (Orser) a silver platter for doing a show and he'll go, "Great. More silver." And I'll make some sort of joke. I'm 60 for 60 on double axels at the opening number. Did I do it at the Olympics? No. But think about it, or ponder about it, or wonder about it? No.

How do you think your life would be different had you won an Olympic medal?

They'd talk longer before I skated. When you win the World Championships four times you sort of know all the stuff that goes with it. It doesn't get any more than that. The thing that's different about an Olympic medal is that you can forge a career around one good skate. I'm forging a career around four or five good skates. I'd be even busier if I won. I would have been in competition in Edmonton, for example. I'm not sure I'd enjoy that part of it, being busier.

How are you enjoying your first full season of the Stars on Ice tour?

It's the first year totally dedicated to the cause and it felt good being at the nucleus of it -- to be on the tour right from the beginning, to have a spot in the dressing room, to be on the starting lineup. The tour has been really long, but this year hasn't been quite as crazy. I think it's because it's not an Olympic year. There's not that hype. Skating is very, very popular, but you're able to stay calm and save some energy. The media's not as demanding. But unfortunately, it's also harder to get people in the seats. Last year all you had to do was sneeze and get standing ovations, and the arena was full. It was really exciting. Now we have to make sure the show is good and to get the word out that we're in town.

Does the daily routine of the show ever get too repetitive or boring?

It's not the same show over and over. There's always a challenge. If it was an easy show then it would be repetitive and boring. But it's not an easy show. We had a long tour in the States, but then the cast changed and the audience changed. The audience in Canada is very different from that in the States. Skate the Nation plays smaller markets, which again is a different kind of audience and has an all-Canadian cast. We have people that have never been on tour before in their life. That is very exciting for us that have been around. It re-energizes our batteries. I'm both really excited that there's only one month left, and kind of sad at the same time.

Do your batteries ever need recharging?

Last year my batteries needed recharging the whole year. I'd wake up in the morning and go, "Oh, my batteries are dead already." This year it's been really exciting.

How are you enjoying professional life in general? Is it anything like what you expected?

It's more demanding because of all the professional events. Last year I wasn't prepared for that. I didn't know I needed six numbers. But you can't really keep six numbers up to that level. It's really a challenge. I've been working with Eaton's, working with Ultrawheels, working with Kellogg's a little bit. So businesswise life is at a peak. It's great.

But I still think my life style is very normal compared to that of a lot of other people that I know. Like Wayne Gretsky. Even Scott or Kristi. Their life styles are just wild. Their houses are huge. Buying a hummer for $100,000. He's doing all these wild things. He's golfed with three presidents. So when you look at my lifestyle, it's less. So it's all relative.

How do you like doing television commentary, especially live commentary?

I like live commentary better. It's easier in that -- we're done. We don't have to go till 5:30 in the morning in a cold, cold trailer outside the arena with a little heater blowing at my feet trying to regenerate that energy: "Ah, Surya Bonaly is doing a back flip -- oh, it's great!"

Do you ever say things on the air that you wish you could take back?

All the time. Of course the thing I always want to take back is what everyone says, "I loved it when you said that." People want commentators to be human. They told me to pretend I'm sitting on a couch with them. "You're in some family's house. They've all eaten. They're sitting down to watch Skate Canada and they're just lucky enough to have Kurt Browning sitting on the couch with them. What kind of questions might they ask?" I always pretend I'm in someone's living room. It seems to work.

Do the network people ever complain about what you say?

Yeah, they yell in my ear, "Talk, damnit. There's stuff happening to that man. The silver medal's gone and you're just sitting on your ass. Talk!" Or the other way, "Shut up -- layout." (Layout means "don't say anything".) It's very exciting.

You have done so much as a professional -- you toured, starred in television specials, competed in professional events, received awards. Is there anything you ddin't do or get that you wish you would?

No Gemini award! The TV show went fine but they didn't even nominate me. So gotta get one of those.

I haven't acted as someone who wasn't me. That would be fun to try. You don't have to be an athlete or be Kurt Browning or be well known to want to act. Everyone who goes to the movies wants to try out a scene.

You act in many of your numbers.

Yes, but I'm still on the ice. "And now skating, Kurt Browning" Maybe I portray some other character, or this obnoxious nerd in a bad suit. One of my characters, his mother started dressing him funny as a kid and he never quite got out of it. He thinks he's great but he's not. It's fun to play characters like that, but you're always playing them as Kurt Browning. It would be fun to be in a movie, like Cam Neely, the hockey player, in Dumb and Dumber. I didn't realize it was Cam Neely until his second scene. He was just a character in a movie. That would be a real challenge.

Is there anyone in the world you would like to meet?

Jon Stewart of the Jon Stewart Show. I think Jon Stewart and I would get along. He's kind of an unknown talk show host. He's so bad it's great. I'm a big fan. I'd like to have Tragically Hip play at my wedding. That'd be great. Actually, I don't know where I'm getting married. If I'm having a great party instead of a wedding, then I'll hire the Hip to play. That would be my party to myself. Except I don't know if that would be a good idea, because I'd probably be in front of the Hip all night when I should be with my family, my new bride.

What is the best thing that has happened to you over the past year?

After the Olympics, the ladies in Halifax started making a medal out of gold and it got exponentially huge. I never had it appraised. It would be worth 15 thousand, it could be worth thirty. But it's a work of art. It doesn't matter -- could be worth ten bucks. An artist crafted it. It's a leaf with Canada over the top and with me standing on Manitoba. (Just because it's in the middle.) Someone gave a ring with a big diamond and they put it where Caroline is in Alberta. That's the coolest thing. I didn't come home with an Olympic medal, but the country made one. And little kids make me medals all the time.

Do you play to keep skating and touring?

I can't see myself being the Duracell battery that Scott Hamilton is. He says I will. He says, "You'll be skating as good or better in eight years as you are now." Scott has a way of talking, you believe everything he says. But we'll see. You never know.

I could quit skating tomorrow and figure out something to do and be happy.

Where do you plan to go on your honeymoon?

We'll go on the moon and have a little skate. She could probably skate on the moon.