||Canada's Walk of Fame Program|
||June 1, 2001|
When does a star become a superstar? Some say the magical moment
occurs when a celebrity's name becomes part of pop culture parlance.
If that's true, then Kurt Browning - three-time Olympian, four-time
Canadian figure skating champion, four-time world champion, two-time
Canadian athlete of the year, television star, best-selling author,
Hall of Famer - became a superstar in September 1999.
It was on September 17, to be precise, that "Kurt Browning" became
the answer to a question - or more accurately, the question to an
answer - on the TV show Jeopardy!
Or maybe it was a year earlier, when he became the first Canadian
athlete featured on the front of an American cereal box (for the
record, it was Special K) and appeared on a jam label (for the record,
it was Smucker's red raspberry).
Or perhaps it was in 1996, when the character played by Gordon
Pinsent philosophized on an episode of CBS's cross-border TV
comedy-drama Due South: "You never appreciate life until you're
dead. One of the Brownings said that - Kurt..or Robert."
Born in tiny Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, on June 18, 1966, Kurt
Browning grew up in the equally remote Alberta town of Caroline. his
childhood dreams were not of figure skating. Sure, he was great on
the ice - and had been since the age of three - but his earliest
ambition was to be a draughtsman. Then he decided he wanted to be a
Not long ago, he confessed that his decision while in his early
teens to shift focus from hockey to figure skating "was easy - become
a hockey player, don't be successful and get killed, or go for figure
skating. It wasn't a tough choice."
Blessed with the body of an athlete, the mind of a champion, the
soul of an artist and the chutzpah of a huckster, Browning was a hit
right from the start.
During the 1986-87 season, his first as an amateur competitor, the
20-year-old placed an impressive 15th in the world championships and a
remarkable second at the Canadian nationals. The following season,
after again placing second at the nationals and at Skate Canada, he
lacked up for the Olympic Winter Games in Calgary and finished eighth
But it was the 1988-89 season that proved to be one for the record
books. The season began with back-to-back first place victories at
Skate Electric, Skate Canada and the Canadian nationals.
Then came the 1988 worlds in Budapest, Hungary, where Browning
dazzled the judges and won the championship - and a place in the
Guinness Book of World Records - with the very first quadruple
jump ever achieved in competition.
Five more seasons of amateur competition followed, in which
Browning won three more Canadian national titles, a trio of world
championships, top honours at the Goodwill Games and the Nations Cup,
chances to participate in two more Olympics and a spot on the national
bestsellers list with his 1990 memoir - written at age 23 - Forcing
Soon after Browning was selected to carry the Canadian flag into
the opening ceremonies of the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, he
made the jump from amateur to professional.
In addition to non-stop professional competition - including two
United States and four Canadian championships - the past seven years
have included starring roles and featured appearances in a dozen TV
specials, perennial Stars on Ice tours, sports commentary gigs
for CBC, NBC and Fox networks, participation in seven consecutive
Ice Wars, hosting the muscular dystrophy Labour Day telethon
three times and emceeing last year's Tribute Gala for Canada's Walk of
Most notable of his performances, however, was an impromptu moment
at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens. During a break in the taping of a
1995 Stars on Ice special, a child in the audience asked
Browning: "Are you married?" Spotting his long-time girlfriend,
National Ballet of Canada principal dancer Sonia Rodriguez, Browning
got down on one knee and proposed in front of 16,000 witnesses.
Rodriguez said yes, and the couple married just two days after
Browning's 30th birthday, on June 30, 1996.
And the accolades just keep coming. Eleven years ago, Browning
became one of the youngest recipients of the Order of Canada. That
same year, he was named top male athlete by the Sports Federation of
Canada for the second year in a row - a distinction that has recurred
twice more, in 1991 and '93. In 1994, he was inducted into the
Canadian Sports Hall of Fame and, in 1998, became the first Canadian
recipient of the Jacques Favart Trophy, the highest honour awarded by
the International Skating Union.
Last year, around the time of his induction into the Canadian
Figure Skating Hall of FAme, a national poll asked Canadians whom they
consider to be this country's all-time greatest athlete. Wayne
Gretsky topped the list. Kurt Browning came a close second.