Stars on Ice

A dazzling gold.

Source: Maclean's, v102 n13 p53(1).
Date: March 27, 1989
Author: Anne Steacy

Full Text COPYRIGHT Maclean Hunter Ltd. (Canada) 1989

A dazzling gold

Kurt Browning skates his way to the top

Moving confidently through an energetic freestyle program, which earned him the only standing ovation of the evening, Canadian figure skater Kurt Browning dazzled a crowd of 7,000 spectators in Paris's Bercy Arena last week. Incorporating eight stunning jumps into his routine--including his trademark quadruple toe-loop and seven triple jumps--the 22-year-old native of Caroline, Alta., crushed his American and Soviet competitors to become only the fourth Canadian in 78 years to win the men's world figure-skating championship. Browning's performance in the French capital came on top of a dazzling performance earlier in the week by Canadians Lyndon Johnston and Cindy Landry, who won silver medals at the world figure-skating championships for their second-place finish in the pairs event. Declared Browning on the day after his championship performance: "You always wonder what it would be like to be number 1. When I finally found out last night, I could hardly talk. The world started spinning around."

Browning's upset victory provided badly needed encouragement to Canadian athletes as testimony at a Toronto judicial inquiry described the widespread use of banned drugs by Canadian track-and-field competitors. The inquiry, which last week adjourned until April, was called after Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson lost the gold medal he had won at last September's Seoul Olympic Games. Standing on the winner's podium, Browning said that "maybe this will give Canadians the opportunity to cheer again." By seizing the world championship, Browning succeeded in skating out of the shadow of Canadian Brian Orser, the 1987 world champion, who turned professional after placing second behind American Brian Boitano at the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary.

Browning, a lithe, five-foot, 10-inch athlete, came from behind to overcome formidable competition. The Canadian skater made a slow start, finishing fifth in the compulsory figures on Tuesday. But on Wednesday afternoon, Browning triumphed in the short program, skating almost flawlessly through a high-tempo routine. That performance vaulted Browning into second place, behind Soviet skater Alexandr Fadeev, going into the freestyle finals on Thursday.

After a wobbly warm-up, Browning's lively and demanding free-skating finale was marred by two bad landings. On the risky quadruple toe-loop, which involves four extremely fast revolutions in the air, Browning landed on both feet instead of one. Then he overrotated and was slightly off-balance as he landed following one of his six triple jumps. Despite his faults, Browning received high technical marks from the nine judges: out of a possible 6.0, he received seven 5.9s and two 5.8s. For artistic impression, they gave him four 5.9s, two 5.8s and three 5.7s. The scores easily cancelled out Browning's earlier weaker performance to earn him the gold medal. Christopher Bowman of the United States wound up with the silver medal, while Grezgorz Filipowski of Poland took the bronze. Fadeev fell twice while performing triple jumps and finished in fourth place.

In the pairs event, Johnston, a 27-year-old native of Hamiota, Man., and Montrealer Landry, 18, were nudged out of first place by the powerful Soviet team of Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov, who are now two-time world champions.

Browning's triumph dramatically confirmed widespread predictions that he would equal--or surpass--Orser's achievements. Browning, who began figure skating when he was 14, is the only male skater other than Orser to have won the Canadian novice (1983), the Canadian junior (1985) and the Canadian national (1989) championships. He was runner-up to Orser in the national championships in both 1987 and 1988, and finished eighth to Orser's second place at the Calgary Olympics. But it was at the world championships in Budapest last spring that Browning first attracted international attention by becoming the first skater ever to achieve a quadruple jump in competition, a feat that helped him to win sixth place. "I think it's terrific," said Orser, who was performing last week in Vancouver, of Browning's victory. "I take my hat off to him." For his part, Browning said that his success was partly the result of Orser's example. "He was an inspiration," said Browning. "Through Brian, we could get close enough to touch and feel the medal and make winning really seem possible."

Despite Browning's victory in Paris, his agent, Michael Barnett of CorpSport International--a personal management firm with offices in Edmonton, Los Angeles and Toronto that represents the Los Angeles Kings' Wayne Gretzky and Canadian skier Karen Percy--said that he would not allow fame to interfere with Browning's long-term goals. "You are not going to see Kurt Browning pop up in six new commercials or on billboards," said Barnett. "He is still going to be focused on the 1992 Olympics." After a 48-day North American tour, Browning planned to return to his family's ranch in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. But his new status will almost certainly make life more comfortable when he returns to his gruelling training regimen, which includes nine hours a day of skating. Before he left for Paris, Browning was riding a bicycle daily through Edmonton traffic to train at the Royal Glenora Club. "I think now we'll be able to get him a car," said Barnett. Clearly, Kurt Browning's road to the future is likely to be paved with gold.