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The split-second skill of a figure skating prodigy: Kurt Browning. (1989 Maclean's Honor Roll)

Source: Maclean's, v102 n52 p38(2).
Date: December 25, 1989
Author: D'Arcy Jenish and Brian Willer

Full Text COPYRIGHT Maclean Hunter Ltd. (Canada) 1989

THE SPLIT-SECOND SKILL OF A FIGURE SKATING PRODIGY

kurt flag

He was introduced to thousands of Canadians, in 16 cities across the country this fall, as "the amazing Mr. Kurt Browning, the 1989 Men's World Figure Skating Champion." Usually, a single spotlight illuminated his solitary figure slumped over a wood-and-metal chair at centre ice. The moment the upbeat music began, Browning was up swirling, soaring, leaping. During his two-minute routine, he was a mesmerizing punk in a black leather jacket, white shirt, fingerless gloves and blue jeans. He performed a triple jump, a backflip and his trademark quadruple jump. Everywhere he performed, as a star of the Champions on Ice touring show, Browing was showered with prolonged applause. In part, those performances were warm-ups for the 1990 world championships in Halifax in March, where Browning aims to become the first Canadian male ever to win two consecutive world figure skating titles. But they were also simply expressions of the joy of skating, which Browning says that he feels when he is flying free before a crowd.

Still only 23, his enthusiasm has helped him to compile an impressive list of victories. He captured the Canadian novice, junior and national championships, a feat previously achieved only by Brian Orser, the 1987 world champion. Then, in March in Paris, Browning became the fourth Canadian in 78 years to win the men's world title. Despite his artistry, he acknowledges that men's figure skating is so competitive that any of the top five skaters in the world can capture the crown. But he insists that he loves the pressure and intensity of world-class competition. "I have an inner confidence in myself that says if I'm the best I can be, I will probably win," he says.

When he is not competing or touring, Browning spends 5 1/2 hours a day on the ice at Edmonton's Royal Glenora Club, training under coach Michael Jiranek and choreographer Kevin Cottam. There, he practises his quadruple jump, the spectacular, split-second move that Browning was the first to perform in competition. The entire action, including the jump, four revolutions and landing, takes only eight one-hundredths of a second to complete. "If my takeoff is right, I know it will be a sweet jump," he says. "It's like hitting a tennis ball with the sweet part of the racket."

Browning began to learn about the sweet feeling as a boy in Caroline, Alta., a town of 450 people in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains 130 km northwest of Calgary. He learned to skate at age 6 on a backyard rink flooded by his father, a hunting guide who is now retired. Until he was 15, Browning was a slick, high-scoring centre in minor hockey and he took up figure skating to improve his hockey skills. He gave up hockey to avoid injury and because figure skating had become too time-consuming. But he still combines his power as an athlete and a competitor with his gifts as an entertainer.

Browning, who lives in Edmonton with his older brother, Wade, and likes dating women he meets in the skating world, regards training as work. When he steps onto the ice for a competition, he says that he feels he is on vacation. "I love being in front of a crowd," he says. And the crowds have come to love him. After every appearance with the Champions on Ice, the skater was mobbed by teenage girls for autographs. Now, whether he wins or loses in Halifax, the many people who have thrilled to his skill know that Kurt Browning has already elevated the sport of skating to exciting new heights of artistry.