Snubbed: Browning had a song in his heart
||March 20, 1996|
To settle a grudge, or to make a political point, or perhaps to
protect all those pristine amateur skaters -- who are making $ 937,500
US here this week -- from the taint of professionalism, Ottavio
Cinquanta pounded his fist on the table and said: "Kurt Browning will
not skate here."
Bully for you, Ottavio The Good.
We all feel a lot safer with you around.
You didn't quite ruin what might have been one of the most
emotional moments in Edmonton's sporting history -- Browning skating
to Michael Burgess's haunting signature piece from Les Miserables,
Bring Him Home, might have left everyone in the place weeping -- but
The opening ceremonies of the 1996 world figure skating
championships Tuesday were saved because the four-time world champion
flew across the continent anyway, waved to the crowd and gamely sang
the national anthem with Burgess -- and because a gutsy 16-year-old
kid named Ben Ferreira swallowed the lump in his throat and skated the
Browning part without so much as a false step.
But you owe us, Mr. Cinquanta. You owe us a lot more of an
explanation than "a rule is a rule" for why, two days before a show
that was two years in the planning, you had to embarrass the volunteer
organizing committee by removing their star.
"We worked two years on this, Pam Chen and I, and she's in tears,"
said Edmonton lawyer Jim Wheatley. "It's Kurt's piece. His
signature. There wouldn't have been a dry eye in the house."
Wheatley's own eyes weren't dry. Everyone from these parts who
ever watched Browning skate with Edmonton tattooed on his behind
formed an emotional attachment to him. These are the worlds Browning
built. He deserved Tuesday night. He belonged on that ice.
"It's darned hard to take," said Browning's dad, Dewey. "I find it
hard to cope with. Hard to understand. Why does this guy have to play
But Kurt Browning is "ineligible" -- the International Skating
Union's euphemism for "not one of ours." ISU Rule 128.5 (b) states:
"During a World or European championship, no exhibition by an
ineligible skater may be held in the same rink."
Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall skated in the 1990 Worlds ceremonies
in Halifax, as pros. Cinquanta would respond that he wasn't president
But he was president just over six weeks ago. That's when Ludmila
Belousova and Oleg Protopopov, four-time world pairs champions,
longtime ineligible professionals now nearing pensionable age, skated
in the opening ceremonies of the European championships, an ISU
event. So why pretend it's a hard-and-fast rule, at the cost of
angering 16,000 fans? For what?
The answer is about eight layers deep.
It has to do with animosity between Cinquanta and Canadian Figure
Skating Association director general David Dore over who really owns
the Champions Series, that big-money circuit of events which
culminated in last month's final in Paris. Cinquanta, insiders say,
has successfully fought off a palace coup, and this is his way of
publicly slapping Dore down.
Cinquanta said the first he heard about Browning skating in the
opening ceremonies was when he arrived in Edmonton on
Saturday. Organizers say the ISU was informed last April that Browning
was to be in the ceremonies.
"I'm very disappointed," Browning said. "When I found out I wasn't
skating, I didn't know quite know how to take it. But it shouldn't be
a blemish on the world championships at all. I don't want it to
be. It's going to be a great week, and I don't want it to start off
"Personally, I don't understand the rule," said Browning's agent,
Kevin Albrecht. "I understand an ineligible skater can't compete at
world championships, but to do an exhibition for the fans -- I don't
understand that. They're drawing a very hard line."
Kristi Yamaguchi, who also was supposed to skate here in the
closing ceremonies with Browning, now won't be coming at all.
"It would have been fantastic," Browning said of his cancelled
skate. "Michael Burgess is a very good friend of mine, Edmonton is my
home. It would have been a memorable skate." It was not a moment some
popgun general should have been allowed to steal.
GRAPHIC: Colour Photo: Larry Wong, Edmonton Journal / Alberta's
four-time world skating champion, Kurt Browning, waves gamely to a
crowd of 16,000 in Edmonton Tuesday night after singing the national
anthem. An International Skating Union official barred Browning, a
professional, from skating in the opening ceremonies of the World
Figure Skating Championships, so the Caroline native sang instead.