Kurt Browning glides into The Q with the U.S. tour of 'Smucker's Stars on Ice'
Figure skating legend Kurt Browning of Canada is back in the U.S. tour
of "Smucker's Stars on Ice" after an eight-year absence. The veteran
athlete, known for his charm and style on the rink, has an easygoing
manner that belies his serious approach to his craft. He recently
talked with Plain Dealer reporter Chris Ball about life on and off the
||Cleveland Plain Dealer|
||March 28, 2011|
How many interviews have you done so far today?
We did five TV. No radio interviews. And one newspaper interview, and
now you. So six.
What is the one question they always ask you?
"Tell me about the show." And that's the most important one. If the
question is not about the show, it's "How did you start
It's been eight years since you've been in "Stars on
Officially. I've been guesting, though.
But as a cast member, you're coming out of retirement for the
silver anniversary. Do the younger skaters tease you about being the
old man on the tour?
No, they really don't. Most have done shows with me in that time, and
I've been doing "Stars on Ice" in Canada for 20 years straight. So I
have been performing and touring and doing shows all over the
world. But it's really something special to get back on the U.S. cast
of "Stars on Ice." It's something I let go because of family
commitments. Seven years ago, my son was born. So I said that'll be it
for the U.S. tour, I'll just do guesting. But this year, there was a
chance that Scott [Hamilton] was going to be in the show with us, so I
said yes, with fingers crossed, that Scott's health was going to let
Can you bond with your next-generation co-stars?
Easily. Jamie [Sale] and David [Pelletier] are Canadian, Joannie
Rochette's Canadian. The four of us really know each other very
well. Ben [Agosto] and Tanith [Belbin] are both such sweet, fun,
especially Ben, he's a fun, silly fellow. Easy people to get to
know. Michael Weiss and Todd Eldredge and I all competed against each
other. Even though I'm older than them, we did cross over a little
bit. We know each other very well. So it's really easy. Ekatarina
Gordeeva is basically from my generation. So bonding, not a
Are two to four shows a week taxing?
The hard part is not the amount of shows, it's the break. For example,
I'm here in Cleveland [recently for a day of interviews], so I don't
get to go home, and I'm not training, so I actually have three or four
days off, and then I've got to restart the 44-year-old body for a show
Thursday. I need jumper cables sometimes to get it going.
Any bad falls recently?
I've only taken one fall this year that hurt at all. I call it the
muscle pincher, when the bone seems to catch the muscle between your
butt and your ice. And that lasts for a few days. But except for a
left knee that's barking a bit more than it should, a meniscus
problem, I feel fine.
You're doing a Supertramp song?
I did that because my sister, who's 8 years older than me, when I was
a kid, she listened to Supertramp all the time. So when I grew up, I
was very familiar with that band. In fact, that was the first rock
concert I went to. This song is not one of their hits. It's called
"Downstream." And when I was 14, I thought, "I should skate to this, I
think it would be nice for skating." Well, that was 30 years ago, and
now at the end of my career, which might be in a few months, a few
years, I don't know, I said to myself, if you're ever going to skate
to this piece of music, you'd better do it. It's an itch that I have
to scratch from when I was a kid. It's a great piece of music. It's so
And your other song?
It's "Stepping Out." For the last few years, I've been having this
idea that the thoughts when we're performing are very random,
sometimes humorous, and I thought it would be fun if the people could
hear what I'm thinking. So of course it's prerecorded, it's my voice
doing my thoughts. But that whole performance is about the audience
being able to hear what I'm thinking while I'm performing.
How is it being received?
Some nights, you can really hear the audience percolating and
laughing, and other nights, you're skating around thinking, "Oh, if
they really knew what I was thinking, which is, 'Oh shoot, they don't
like it.' " But generally speaking, I think it's been received very
What are you thinking?
My knees hurt, I'm on the road away from my family, I'm a bit grumpy,
feeling sorry for myself, poor me. And halfway through, I'm starting
to have fun, to warm up, and then I have this epiphany, "You stupid
old man, you're doing what you love, shut up and skate and just enjoy
this." And so the second half, no more thoughts, just music and
dance. A coat comes from the ceiling, I put on my tails, a hat comes
from the audience and a man throws me my cane, and I go crazy and have
a good time. And then my thoughts come back for the bow. And the bow
is really silly. "I love bowing. I'm no Scott Hamilton, but I'm not
bad." And it's a really fun program to do. I love props and I love
hats. I'm addicted to them.
You've been called the greatest skater never to win an Olympic
I've got to be on that list, definitely. I'm sure there's a couple
other good ones out there, too.
All the great ones I'm thinking of all have Olympic
medals. . . . Michael Weiss and Todd Eldredge, in the cast, they're
great skaters. They don't have Olympic medals.
They're not going to go back and compete. That's a given.
Do you think much about being the first person to land a quadruple
It doesn't come up very often. It has been 20-some years. But when it
does come up, I just wallow in the memory of it.
You don't worry that people will only remember you for the
I honestly don't think that's happened. Four world titles is a good
swath at the top of the podium. The Olympics didn't work out for a
couple of reasons, but it feels good when people say four world
titles. But "Stars on Ice" has given me so many great programs. Just
great vehicles that have been humorous or creative or fun. I don't
worry about being known as the guy who did the quad, lots has happened
since then. It depends on what you want. I've always wanted to
skate. Paul Wiley never did a lot at the World Championships, but he
got a medal at the Olympics, and he was able to parley that into a
great career. What I really wanted was to perform. So if it took four
world titles or one Olympic medal, I just wanted so badly to be able
to perform. So it doesn't hinder me sleeping at night that I don't
have an Olympic medal. And with all the people who were washed away in
Japan. . . .
That puts it in perspective.
Yeah. I'm a lucky, lucky man. There's no "poor me, I don't have an
Olympic medal" at all.
It seems quads are almost a requirement now in the top levels of
What is your take on last year's quad controversy? [Evan Lysacek
won the gold medal without doing a quad.]
The [Evgeni] Plushenko factor was pretty high, he was spouting on
about how if you're competing in the men's division, you have to do a
quad. I enjoyed the banter and rivalry. I must admit I'm a skating
fan, and when skaters stand up and say something strong, I'm a fan,
I'm like, "Wow, did you hear what he said?" I got wound up in it. Did
I want the quad to be raised up to what he wanted? No. But I still
agreed with him, I thought the quad was underappreciated. And I'm glad
that it's been boosted up a bit. Of course, they boosted everything up
a bit, so it kind of leveled it out a bit, but what it did is it made
the guys go back out and make the quad a priority. Now Patrick Chan
will go to the World Champions this year, if they happen, with three
quads, and everyone was saying, "You're the skater who wins world
medals without it." Well, he's come back with it. So I'm glad that
they did that change. Jeffrey Buttle was a great world champion
without one. He outskated everybody. But I like the quad. I think it's
exciting. It's a beautiful thing to see, like when there's a slam dunk
in basketball, and they soar and soar, and you can just tell that it's
a millisecond longer than everyone else, but the millisecond lasts in
your memory. And that's what a quad is. It's just so
Average people like me can't imagine landing a single spin. Can you
explain how a quad is even possible?
You don't climb a mountain in one step. It's a whole bunch of little
steps. Then you look and you go, "Whoa, look how high I am." So when
you're starting out as a young man or woman and you're learning baby
steps, and eventually you build a base, and on the base you can build
a house. We skaters make it look easy because of those thousands and
thousands of steps before. We build a foundation with a double and
then a triple. Most skaters who try a quad know they have the ability
before they try it. They know their triple is big enough. They know
they're strong enough. They know they're high enough off the ice to
fit four revolutions in. Generally speaking, you don't see skaters
working on quads that don't eventually land it. Because they just
know. Or the coach knows.
Will someone ever do a quintuple?
I've been asked this question over the last 20 years quite a few
times. And I've saved my butt each time by saying yes. Honestly, it
doesn't seem like it. It seems like it should have happened by
now. But skating is getting very scientific. They can study how long
you were in the air, how long it takes you to go up and when you start
rotating. And those people who study it tell me it's not
For decades, people thought no one would ever break Babe Ruth's
You can't fly over the Atlantic.
The four-minute mile.
Yeah. I say there could be somebody, and he'll have no hips. He will
look like a pencil, and that guy might be able to do a quint
someday. Will it be consistent like the quads? I can't see that
happening. But will it happen? It might. And I'm going to fly to his
house and shake his hand. And I'm going to assume it's a guy, because
I keep saying "him," but it might not be.
Why did "Skating with the Stars" fail so badly last year?
I saw it a few times. I thought Tanith [Belbin] did a great job of
hosting. But I think people just expect a lot from the actual concept
within the show, which is skating. And the idea didn't quite transfer
enough technically on the ice. I think that's why it failed, that
people just didn't see enough skating. We have a similar show in
Canada called "Battle of the Blades." But we use retired NHL hockey
players. So there's the juxtaposition between taking a big, burly guy
who's played hockey his whole life and is a superstar and he's got 250
penalty minutes in fighting, and we put him on figure skates, and he
partners a girl. So there's that, plus the fact that they can already
skate, so the show level was really high, with amazing lifts, and the
guys were doing spins.
Ratings were through the roof.
Maybe they should try it here.
I think the guy who owns it, who's my agent, is trying to figure out a
way to do it in the States.
So we'll see.
I co-host the show as well. I don't know if I will this year. No one's
phoned me. Maybe I'm not co-hosting it.
Get your agent on the line. If you'd never strapped on skates, what
would you be doing now?
I thought I might try architecture. That was terrible, awful. That
lasted one semester. And the only other close thing I've done to a
career is I waitered at Chi-Chi's for eight months. I honestly have no
idea. I like people and like making them smile. I'm sure it would have
been something similar. But I was growing up on a farm, and who knows
what I would have had access to? Maybe entertaining people wouldn't
have been it.
Do you have a recurring anxiety dream before shows?
I've had dreams where I'm stuck in the arena somewhere but can't find
Like "Spinal Tap"?
Yeah. And I've had dreams where I can't get my skates on. But maybe
only one or two my whole life.
Do you use social media?
A little bit. I do Twitter a bit. And I'm a sporadic Twitterer. Today
I'm Twittering a lot because we're doing a media day. I don't Twitter
personal stuff real often. It's mostly, here's a show that's coming
up, folks. I guess you could follow me and find out what kind of
Twitterer I am. Sometimes it's silly.
Do you blog?
I don't blog, no. I have a Facebook page that I'm probably in the
future going to start doing something with. They created a Facebook
page for me. (whispers) I've never even seen it.
Last summer, you had an encounter with a leaf blower. What
I Twittered about that a little bit, just to say thank you to
people. What happened is my fancy little car, which after 10 years of
skating as a pro I bought for myself, leaked. It was a soft-top
convertible, and it was parked on an incline, and there was a massive
amount of water in the back. So being a country kid, I try to figure
out how to solve this problem myself. So every once in a while, I'd go
down in the garage and set up the leaf blower and just let the air
blow underneath the carpets and dry it out, so that no mold would come
into play. And the third day, my theory is that it was pretty dry,
because something went wrong, either the leaf blower sparked, or it
got overheated, or it slipped, because I had it tied it off so it
wouldn't move, but maybe it plugged either one end or the other and
overheated. My cellphone went off, so I left the garage so I could
hear, and then I heard the garage door open. I thought, "That's really
weird. Why would the garage door open?" I opened it up, and the car
was engulfed in flames. The fire department was under
restoration. They didn't come for about 16, 17, 18 minutes. And that
was enough. The fire took hold from the basement into our living room,
into our bedroom, into the roof and burned most of the roof off the
house. And five and a half hours later, they had it under control. So
I was just trying to get my car dry. It's dry now.
I'll be honest. You asked me, am I pegged as just the guy who did the
quad 20 years ago? I was honestly worried that I'd be pegged as the
guy who burned his house down with a leaf blower. And that worried
me. I've worked really hard on my career, on my reputation, and I want
my sons to grow up with a dad who was an athlete and a performer, not
somebody who made this stupid mistake with a leaf blower. Maybe I
underestimated people and the media. I don't think that that's
happened. People have been really good about it. But I was worried
that you can just do one thing wrong, and then that's who you are? It
hasn't seemed to happen that way.
Complete this sentence: Hockey is to fighting was figure skating is
Dancing, I guess. It's the first thing that came into my mind. I
almost said sequins.
Smucker's Stars on Ice 25th Anniversary Tour
When: 5 p.m. Sunday.
Where: The Q, East Sixth Street and Huron Road.
Tickets: $25-$140. 1-888-894-9424.