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Interview with Kurt Browning

Kurt Interview Transcript from CJOB (Winnipeg) with Richard Cloutier

Dec. 3, 2004

RC: Richard Cloutier (host)
KB: Kurt Browning

RC: Richard Cloutier in for Kacey Wilson. The world's top skaters from Canada, Russia, United States, and Europe will compete head-to-head in a judged figure skating competition in one week, next Friday Dec. 10 beginning at 7:30 at the MTS Center. Kurt Browning, 4-time World Figure Skating Champion, 4-time Canadian Champion, joins us live on CJOB 68. Kurt Browning, good afternoon, thanks for joining us here at the Watercooler.

KB: That's great, nice to be here.

RC: Um, now are you about to go on the ice practice or just getting off the ice now?

KB: (laughs) I'm out in the- I'm out in BC at the moment, so we're just preparing for a Christmas show that we'll be filming tonight.

RC: OK so that's well choreographed..um. Is there a lot of practice that you still have to do on a daily basis?

KB: Um, well this is my full time job. And um, just like those athletes that you see getting ready for the Olympics, um, you know I have to prepare and train and do all those things too. It's certainly a different kind of schedule, it's a different kind of job, but um, it involves a lot of traveling, it involves being able to stay in shape and be able to perform in different time zones. And certainly, you know we're not peaking for one event, we're trying to peak each week for something new.

RC: And as far as that is concerned..like, give..take us through a day, like a typical day now in your life. And how does that compare when you were competing at the amateur level?

KB: Oh, well. I know that um..like you know, Jamie and David are only a couple years into their professional career and I think that they...um, it sometimes takes a couple years for skaters to sort of break the tether, shall we say, from the coach, and the regular routine of going into the rink as an amateur, and, you know, really training for that one big event, that World Championship or that Olympic Gold Medal that you're searching for. As a professional, I'm training for probably 4 or 5 events at one time, which might mean I have an outfit for a Christmas show or I need to do another number for a country show, um, I have to get ready for this competition that we'll be having in Winnipeg which involves rules and judging, which is a totally different animal. And um, as a professional, that's really the name of the game, is being able to prepare for multiple events at once.

RC: Talk about the Winnipeg event, and it's a different animal and considering what skating has been through the last couple of years, um..how does this differ then from what you folks do and tell us about the judging aspect of that because that's a throwback to earlier in your career.

KB: Well it's kind of a chance for us to um, you know, as professionals, to, you know, kind of get back in the ring a little bit, um, strut your stuff. If, um..if I'm in a Christmas show tonight and um..you know my goal is to obviously provide entertainment, um, to provide athleticism and fun and musicality and all those great things that go with being..you know, one of the, hopefully one of the best skaters out there. But when it's time for competition, it's my chance to push my own limits a little bit, to be rewarded for risk. Um, you know the risk that I take in a show isn't necessarily rewarded, but in a competition it will be. So you know what? It's just a chance to flex that competitive muscle that, um, that we used to..you know, that I used to do all the time and be compared against my peers, which is also daunting, and kind of scary, but fun at the same time.

RC: And it puts you, like you said, on a certain edge. But when we talk about judging, we know about the Olympics and the fallout of that. Are you confident that this restructuring that we've seen in figure skating is going to work?

KB: Sorry I couldn't hear that last question?

RC: Well, with the Olympic fallout..

KB: Oh the new system?

RC: And the new system that's in place, are you confident that this is all going to work out now?

KB: I'm more confident this year than I was last year. The more I hear about it, the more I'm starting to, you know, to think that it's definitely a step in the right direction. Like, any step (laughs) is a positive one, and the system that we used to have was fine. There was nothing wrong with the system. It was just, you know, the people. So, um, I compare it to a red, yellow, and green light, and if nobody stops at the red light and goes at the green light, then that situation is useless, but if everyone follows the rules, then it works fine. And um, what we're trying to do is just, you know, make sure that the rules are harder to manipulate. And actually, this new system is rewarding the all-around skater, and the more the skater's learning about it, the more I think that the skaters themselves are liking it. I have a few reservations, but not too many.

RC: How does this new system then differ from the old system? For those people that don't always follow figure skating, and I don't know why they don't (Kurt laughs), but uh..for those people who don't, what is significantly changed in figure skating as far as this whole judging scandal is concerned, and the aftermath. What changes have been made?

KB: Well there's more judges, and the judge isn't necessarily certain that their mark is being counted at the moment, so basically what it does is that it guarantees that one judge can not manipulate the outcome. And the big..the big..how can I describe this? In diving, when you watch competitive diving, you know exactly what that diver is trying to do before they jump off the board. This is a 3.8 level dive, and if they hit it, they'll get this much points, right? And that's sort of where figure skating has gone. And the 3.5 minute or the 4 minute program has already been assessed. Um, the judges know what the skater is going to attempt. There's more restrictions on mistakes. Uh..it's a lot harder for the favorite going in to make a couple mistakes and still win. So, it's more scientific, I guess.

RC: The impression I got throughout that, and I want to move on and talk about this MTS event, but the impression I got, it was still this, you know, country club, old boys, old girls type of network here. Has that at all been penetrated? Has that been..you know, has the stick of dynamite gone in there and blown that whole aspect of it up?

KB: Um, we had a pellet gun and we shot at them a little bit but (laughs) that's about it. Um..it is. Um, you know, it's a system that's been around, it's been the same names for a long time, and um, those sort of things? You know, the boys' club like you describe it? That's a hard thing to change. Um, but yeah, time and necessity will provide us with a better system in the future. And skating is a great sport! It offers so many things, to not only, you know, the people watching, but to young kids. And I think that we're so fixated right now on what's happening on TV at the Olympics with the judges that we sometimes forget that we're..we need to provide a system that parents are going to want to put their kids into. I wouldn't...you know, I'm a new father, I wouldn't want to put my kid into something that I don't think he has a chance of controlling his own destiny in. And uh, I think that's what we have to do in skating is to make it accountable for itself.

RC: You married a ballerina, right?

KB: I did. That was a good day!

RC: So,um.. yeah I bet! And now the little one..you know, ballerina, figure skating..there's huge potential here, isn't there?

KB: Yeah, I think he'll be a linebacker for sure.

RC: (laughs)

KB: Yup, a real small one.

RC: Kurt Browning is with us on CJOB-68, and I'm looking at some of the names here. Team USA, Team Russia, Team Europe..uh, this is the World elite!

KB: It's um...what you're looking at is a group of skaters that are the..you know, really the top athletes at the professional world right now. Um, from Europe is being represented by Josef Sabovcik. He's um..geez, he's probably about, what's Josef? 42, 43 years old? And he is still, still one of the best jumpers on the planet, and um..very very exciting. Alexei Yagudin, of course, who just won the Olympics in 2002. Um, Todd Eldredge who is...who's doing..when I do shows with him he does 2 triple Axels in every show! So technically, I'm up against some, you know, some real good guys!

RC: Yeah, and I'm looking at the women here too. Not bad too!

KB: We um..you know, if you come to the event you're going to see, like, really great skating, but you're also going to get that edge of competiveness that puts you on your seat and..um, you know...a show is very exciting, um... we put in, like for example, I'm doing a Christmas show tonight and we've worked really hard on it, and we want to make moments that make you go awww, and you know, we have little kids in it and everything, and we're really hoping to entertain and show skating at its best. But you know, let's be honest, when you're competing, it's just different. You know? When you're watching an exhibition hockey game or the Stanley Cup playoffs, that's just different. It's a different - like we were saying early - it's a different animal.

RC: Well, and it's all about pride, and it's all about..yeah, winning. You're a very tight-knit circle but very, very competitive! I know I'm that way in this business, I know many people in the business but there's nothing like breaking a news story and for you guys it's winning a competition. It's...you still have that in you. And I guess the day that that leaves you will be the day that you hang them up.

KB: Well, right...to be honest right now, I'm skating great, what I can't decide is exactly what elements..not elements, but what programs I should use. Um...I competed earlier in an event called Ice Wars, and I had a new program that was um..you know, sort of a funny program where I..to make a long story short, I actually have a box full of toys and I'm pretending to, you know, sort of like use my kid's toys to play with. And I think maybe it's a good exhibition number, I'm not sure if it's a competitive number, and I'm going back and forth, I can't make a decision. I know that Jamie and David..my teammates...are going to skate great, Jennifer Robinson is going to skate great, and I want to make sure that I hold up my end of the bargain!

RC: How close of a circuit is this? Because I was talking to a colleague of mine who's very plugged into the figure skating circle and he said "Richard"..this is CJOB's Lorne Edwards...he said "Richard, ask Kurt about Scott Hamilton" because he was diagnosed with cancer, recovered, and I gather recently diagnosed with a brain tumor. How is he doing and how close of a circuit is this?

KB: Well, Scott is sort of..you know, at least for my generation, he's one of those few individuals that you can actually point a finger at and say that he's changed the sport, that he's made a difference in my life. And um..you know I've had a history with Stars on Ice that goes back almost 15 years, and, I was there the day that he found out that he had cancer the first time and you know, just to..we've just been through so much together. Um..I know that some people say that when they go to college that's a really tough time, and that they never forget those people that they went to college with, and I think that the people that I turned professional with and travelled with are like that. So Scott's um..and again, I was there with him the day that he found out about the second tumor. It was between his eyes, and it was a mass, and I have not spoken to him personally since, but I guess it is benign, and it is something that I think the doctors are very positive about, and he is at home resting, and um...Again, he's just one of the toughest little men you'll ever meet. And uh, he thinks that his goal in life now is to use his um..his fame that skating has brought him to fight cancer. And that..he actually said, he goes "I know now why I became this great skater, it's because I really actually need to do *this*" and that's the kind of guy he is.

RC: Who is your toughest competitor? When you look back at your career? The toughest competitor.

KB: Oh..(thinks) Uh, I was almost going to say Victor Petrenko but uh... if you say toughest, it has to be Elvis! Elvis Stojko was one of the toughest guys I ever had to compete against, because um..there wasn't anything about him that made you dislike the fellow, it was just the intimidation factor, the fact that you knew that he wasn't going to mentally mess up. And what you saw in practice is what you were going to have to compete against, and what you saw in practice was intimidating, and consistent. And he was a really tough guy to compete against.

RC: And is that why you like the idea of this judged event, in the sense that it makes you mentally sharp? And I wonder if that's what you miss the most, is that, is that mental..you know, it's entertainment, it's about the show, it's about performing, it always has been, always will be, but there's nothing like being able to psych somebody out (Kurt laughs) because the drama, the drama over the years has just been incredible!

KB: Well yeah, I'll be honest, it feels pretty good to test yourself, and say, you know, I want to skate down the ice with the white light on, and you know, someone's going to put up a mark and tell me what they thought about it, and to do a triple-triple like I used to... And you know, I may not win, but you know, just to be able to take my skates off after and just breathe out and go "ah, I feel good about myself right now" because, the trouble is is that the good feeling I get from skating great or from meeting that challenge, it lasts so fleeting, but if I screw up, I'm going to be mad at myself for weeks (laughs), so, I'm almost...

RC: Do you still put that much pressure on yourself?

KB: Oh sure. And it can happen on the 42nd show of a 60 city tour, too. We are very temperamental creatures, we...um, what'd you call us before you interviewed..you know, you said...

RC: Well, you know, off-air I was saying to my producer Joel whether or not, you know, he's a flaky entertainer..

KB: Flaky entertainer, that's right, and we, we are very..we wear our hearts on our sleeves (under Richard)

RC: And whether he'll show up on time, and you actually called early!

KB: (laughs) I had help. But um, we do, we wear our hearts on our sleeves, we're performers, and um, every time that we get on the ice and make a few mistakes, we don't get those back, and maybe we get to skate, you know, the next city. We get to do the same show again, but we'll never get that audience back and we take it pretty seriously.

RC: Who do you like at the amateur level in Canada right now? Sandhu is, in many ways, like you. And I hate..well, I'll say it, hot or cold!

KB: Hot or..well, actually as an amateur, I was... you know, I had bad luck at one Olympics where I was healthy and ready to compete but um, I don't know, I'll argue with you on that, I think that four world titles is a pretty good, is a pretty good thing to go for...

RC: (over Kurt) You were more hot, you were more hot than you were cold!

KB: But Sandhu is probably one of the most successful athletes, and you're right, one of the most, um, unrewarding athletes at the very very same time, and I think that it's something that is hopefully not crawling into his head, because he is ridiculously talented. He's working really really hard, probably harder than I've ever seen him work, and um, has the potential to be that guy that sneaks into the Olympics and becomes the unsung hero!

RC: We will look forward to seeing you, uh, next Friday night at the MTS Center. The tickets are available at Ticketmaster, and for the first..actually, the third caller at 780-CJOB, you will win a pair of tickets to this. The third caller at 780-CJOB. Kurt Browning, an absolute pleasure to talk to you this afternoon, and you've got to hit the ice, you've got to go out and practice right away, and we thank you, and best of luck, not only Friday night, but with all those television specials that we're going to see you in in the weeks and months ahead.

KB: Right on. We appreciate it, and hopefully we'll have a good competition for everybody, and hopefully everyone will enjoy it.

RC: Kurt Browning, joining us live on CJOB-68. Thanks again. And it's Stars on Ice, four time world champion, four time Canadian champion Kurt Browning joining us here on the Superstation. The world's top skaters from Canada, Russia, United States, and Europe will compete head to head in a judged figure skating competition one week from today, Friday Dec. 10 at the MTS Center. Tickets are available right now, and again, caller number three, at 780-CJOB.