COVER

LOOKING OUT FOR NUMBER 1

KURT BROWNING DEALS WITH FAME

D’ARCY JENISH January 14 1991
COVER

LOOKING OUT FOR NUMBER 1

KURT BROWNING DEALS WITH FAME

D’ARCY JENISH January 14 1991

LOOKING OUT FOR NUMBER 1

COVER

KURT BROWNING DEALS WITH FAME

It is an extremely difficult, potentially dangerous exercise, and only one man, 24-year-old Kurt Browning of Caroline, Alta., has ever performed it in competition. It is a quadruple toe loop completed in the air three-quarters of a second before touching down. According to Browning’s agent, Kevin Albrecht, the dangerous aspects of the jump become evident when it is seen in slow motion, captured by a camera that records 300 frames per second. The slo-mo film shows Browning landing on one foot with such force that his ankle bends over at nearly a 90-degree angle. Still, while performing for a Diet Coke commercial at a Toronto arena in early December,

Browning performed four quadruples in the space of a few minutes. Then, just to ensure that the camera crews had enough spectacular footage for a 30-second television advertisement, the defending world champion performed five backflips.

Performing the quadruple made him unique in the skating world, and now Browning is using product endorsements and other activities to become wealthy, although his earnings go into a trust fund in order to preserve his amateur status. His contract with Torontobased Coca-Cola Canada Ltd., for one, has made him part of an exclusive group of athletes and entertainers who endorse Diet Coke in North America. Among the others are hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky, pop star Elton John and model Jerry Hall. Besides the ad, Browning’s growing list of off-ice projects includes a CBC special scheduled for broadcast on Feb. 24, an autobiography that will probably be published next fall, a one-hour video profile, Jump, and a documentary that Edmonton-based Great North Productions is filming. And in midDecember, Browning became the first figure skater to be named Canada’s Male Athlete of the Year in a poll of sportswriters and broadcasters that has been conducted since 1936.

Despite the increasing demands on his time, Browning told Maclean ’s, he still skates almost

daily. And in early January, he began training seriously at Edmonton’s Royal Glenora Club to defend his Canadian and world titles. Said Browning: “I’ll shut down the interviews, the endorsements and the travel.” He said that at the national and world championship levels, the competition is too intense to allow for compla-

cency. He acknowledged that any of the other top 15 skaters he will compete against at the world championships in Munich in mid-March have the physical ability to pack as many as eight different triple jumps and spins into a four-minute routine. The key to winning, he said, is to develop unusual or untried combinations of jumps.

Startled: Browning already startled the skating world this season while competing at the Nations Cup in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, in mid-November. He said that he won the competition partly on the strength of a manoeuvre called a triple Salchow-triple loop combination, which had never been performed publicly before. Browning’s coach, Michael Jiranek, said that back-to-back triple jumps are always difficult, but that Browning added a new element by performing two jumps from the same foot. Said Jiranek: “It’s the role of a world champion to bring new things to the sport.”

In the weeks leading up to the Canadian

championships in Saskatoon between Feb. 6 and 10 and the world championships a month later, the skater, his coach and a new choreographer, Brian Powers of Vancouver, will be working on fresh elements for Browning’s routine. Browning’s training consists of three one-hour sessions on the ice every day. But his off-ice business activities have made it difficult to find adequate training time. Said Jiranek: “There’s tremendous interest in Kurt and his skating. We have to cope with it.”

Interest: During the first two weeks of December, Browning was preoccupied with his CBC television special. After rehearsals in Toronto, he and a cast of skaters spent a week filming in central Alberta, near his home town of Caroline (population 394). CBC will broadcast the special after the Canadian championships and before the world event to take advantage of the public interest generated by the two competitions. Browning’s video, entitled Jump, focuses on his development as a skater. Browning initially enrolled in a figure skating program

in his home town at age 6 in order to improve his skating so that he could play hockey. However, his natural talents as a skater quickly became evident. By the time he was 10, his parents were driving him twice a day to Rocky Mountain House, 37 km away, for figure skating lessons, and when he was 16 he moved to Edmonton to train under Jiranek.

Despite his accomplishments and the fame they have brought him, he remains an unassuming young man. When he had a few days off in Los Angeles last spring, he participated in a light scrimmage with the NHL’s Kings, and described the experience as “a dream come true.” But, for the next three months, Browning will be setting aside all diversions to concentrate on keeping his national and world figure skating crowns. And that means his opponents and his fans can likely count on some dazzling new moves from a masterful skater.

D’ARCY JENISH