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Canada's Browning up for World Team Challenge

Source: Winnipeg Free Press
Date: December 10, 2004
Author: Laurie Nealin

WATCHING Kurt Browning zip around the MTS Centre ice yesterday, landing like-butter triple jumps, it's hard to believe it has been 11-plus years since he won his fourth world figure skating title.

Browning, now 38, knows he has his work cut out for him tonight in the pros-only World Team Challenge if he is to outscore two younger contenders, including 2002 Olympic champion Alexei Yagudin, and one slightly older rival, master jumper Jozef Sabovcik.

"I'm up against Alexei, who limps everywhere around the rink, can't walk, but then he goes out and skates well," Browning said of the four-time Russian world champion who has been hobbled by a chronic hip injury since 2002.

"Todd Eldredge is skating very, very strong. Jozef is not renowned for getting a lot of marks artistically, but make a couple of mistakes and he'll get you because he can still jump right through the ceiling," Browning added.

The World Team Challenge, the only professional figure skating competition held in Canada, boasts a unique format with one man, woman and pair competing as a team. Points earned by each team member for their technical and artistic performances are added to determine the winning team.

Four teams -- Canada, United States, Russia and Europe -- will compete tonight. "The same thing happens every year," lamented Browning, now father to a 16-month-old son. "I get (other triples, including the Axel) all ready and then because of the timing of the competitions, I am in so many shows, rehearsing and travelling so much beforehand, I don't get to train them."

Browning's teammates are Olympic pairs champions Jamie Sale and David Pelletier and six-time national champion Jennifer Robinson, who graduated to the pro ranks this past spring.

Wearing the stars and stripes are 1996 world champion Eldredge, Caryn Kadavy and Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman.

Maria Butyrskaya, 1999 world champion, will join Yagudin and Olympic pairs co-gold medallists Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze on Team Russia.

Team Europe features Sabovcik, 1984 Olympic bronze medallist, Ukraine's Oksana Baiul, the 1994 Olympic women's champion, and duo Ian Jenkins and Lucie Stadelmann.

In the season's first professional competition held in mid-November in South Carolina, Browning showed a total of four triple jumps in his finale skate, while Yagudin, who did not arrive in Winnipeg in time for yesterday's practice, nailed five in the technical round. Eldredge one-upped them by landing the most difficult triple -- the Axel -- in both programs. Just two years out of the amateur ranks, Sale and Pelletier still perform their most difficult tricks, including the triple twist and triple throw jumps. They have also added adagio moves, such as her handstand on his arm.

"If you're an Olympic champion, people pay to see an Olympic champion. They don't pay to see a three-years-ago champion who does half of what they used to. It's self-pride and respect for the people that come to see you," Pelletier said.

The judges rate the performances on a scale of 10 and award just one overall score, rather than separate technical merit and presentation marks. The scores for the artistic programs are doubled so the finale round carries twice the weight of the opener in determining the winning team.

Organizers report there are still good seats left for tonight's event which begins at 7:30.