Episode #1: Kurt Browning

MARCH 2007
This is the premiere episode, featuring an interview with World Champion skater Kurt Browning. 37 minutes, 40 seconds long.

Thanks to Fiona Mcquarrie for transcribing these interview highlights:

On touring: When you’re a young guy without a wife and family at home, then it’s exciting. But I’ve seen most of the cities [on the Stars on Ice tour] seven or eight times, and I know that there’s a three-year-old changing every day at home. …To be honest, I’m quite over the travel.  I’ve done it for over a decade, hard, eight months a year.  It’s worth it because if you’re skating well and the show’s going well, that sort of is worth it. But if you’re not skating well, if you’re injured or something, it just doesn’t seem like it’s worth it, I should be home.

When I first started Stars on Ice, we had extra energy, we didn’t travel every night on the bus, we would come home from the show and, you know, sit some place and have a drink, told exciting stories, and it was great.  But I’m a little over it now. I do it for the skating and I’m just not ready to give up that yet. But I’m completely ready to give up the travel. If Star Trek could become a reality and I could just zip back home every night after the show, that would be perfect.  I think everyone would like that.

Kurt speaks with me backstage at 2007 Stars on Ice

On warming up off the ice: We’ve been doing this for a long time, and everyone sort of knows their own way of doing it. Before the show for the last couple of years,  the guys all get together and play soccer…we play really hard soccer.  We’re sweating before the show starts.  We’ve been playing so hard that the first half [of the show] is good, the second half is like, “oh”. It’s almost like that at intermission we need to play more soccer. The girls, they put makeup on. I don’t know how the girls do it, they’re very quiet, they stretch and jog around a little bit.  And during the show, the skaters are on and off the ice so often that they do stay warm.

On fan websites: Do [the webmasters] really realize that they’re actually sort of molding every interview that I do? [Iinterviewers] all hit these websites and form their questions because of them.  I don’t really research these websites – in fact, it’s been four or five years since I even looked at one of them.  [The webmasters of his official site] I trust them, they’re nice people, and if they have any questions they call me. Tina and Debbie, they’re the sweetest girls and they’re very smart, and so I just help them whenever I can – they helped set this up, and Tina helped set this interview up, and every once in a while she’ll phone me and say, can you just tell me what’s coming up? But she knows that I don’t even go to her website and doesn’t take it personally. For me, I would rather just skate, and the more information that gets in your skull while you’re out there, the less you act like yourself.  And so I just don’t worry about it.

Little-known facts: [On delivering a calf with a rope and a hockey stick when he was 13} I had help [laughs]. There was another kid who was 13.

[On hanging a friend upside down by his heels so the friend could spray-paint a water tower] Yeah, it was more by his belt.  I don’t think I would have got him back up if it was by his heels.  The trouble was, at the top of a water tower at 4 in the morning it’s frosty, and it’s pretty wet and slippery.  That’s definitely among the top three stupidest things I’ve done in my life.

[On what the other two stupid things were] Just as stupid, and we’ll leave them forgotten [laughs].

Most embarrassing skating moment: Reality check, it’s being in the Olympic Games and falling. The world’s watching and you have this opportunity to sort of live out some sort of a dream. You don’t even – I mean, Brian Boitano had everything figured out in his head for, like, months and months before it happened.  He knew exactly what he was going to do, what he was going to feel like, what he was going to think. And I think in Albertville, when my back was bad, I shouldn’t have even been in that competition actually.  But when I fell, I remember thinking that my friends were at home in a crowded living room in some small apartment, watching a 14-inch-screen-TV, screaming “go for it”, and then, you know, I could just hear that room go “Ahhhhwww!” and, you know, the disappointment there as they saw me fall. And I’m still sitting on one of those five-ring circles on my butt, and I haven’t even gotten up yet, and my mind was back home with my friends, thinking about the sound that just happened in that room. And I was embarrassed. You know, you’re a young cocky kid, and I felt frustrated., because I couldn’t – it wasn’t even really my fault I fell, and yet who’s going to know that?

I felt so vulnerable at that time. Like, I remember going to the Olympics and feeling like I was going into a gunfight with a plastic knife. For months and months before then I hardly slept  and I was always worried and sick, and I was, you know, driving to physiotherapy with my right foot pushing the clutch of the truck down because my left foot wouldn’t do it. And I’m supposed to go win the Olympics? So when I fell, all those months just…ohh. It’s amazing I didn’t puke out there.

That’s my most embarrassing moment. There’s lots of embarrassing moments where you slide off, you know, into the banners, your blade falls off, your costume rips. But those things you look back at as fond memories because they’re good fodder for stories afterwards.  But when I look back at the Olympics, I think, gosh… that was a real hard moment. And, you know, it helped form who I am, and I think how lucky I think I am now… I mean, when you think about all the bad things in the world that could happen to you, falling down in a competition is nothing. But still it formed a little bit of who I was, or I am.

On landing the first certified quad: I think we were in….what country in Europe? We were in an outdoor rink and we went to watch Brian Boitano practice, I don’t know why he was there…but I saw Brian practice and he did a quad. And I think seeing him that day do that quad while I was on tour in Europe was kind of like, “Hmm, this is pretty cool”. So I think that was ’87, and I went home and started trying it when no one else was at the rink, because I didn’t want anyone to see me try a quad and not do it. It would be too embarrassing. I didn’t tell my coach, I didn’t tell anybody. There was one girl that I used to drive home from the rink, so she was there if I ever smacked my head on the ice and couldn’t get up, so she could call somebody.  And that was it, I just started trying them on my own. And then when I started two-footing them and standing up, which was really only days later, I started showing it to my coach.  And at that time my triple axel wasn’t that great, so he said, let’s just forget the axel and just work on this, because it was better.

I think it happens to a lot of people, whether they admit it or not – the new generation of skaters doesn’t always give credit to the one before them – but I think it was just watching Brian that day that put the seed in my head. Which is ironic because he wanted to be the first one to land the quad.

On the demise of figures: They kind of had to go, I guess. When you’re trying so hard to sell your sport- I always felt that it was difficult for people to turn on the TV and go, hey, the German’s in front, but he can’t skate! That’s really weird, why is he in first place? Well, he’s in first place because he can do these amazing circles on the ice.  But why didn’t we see that? Well, because it’s really boring and it takes 24 hours to get the competition over with, it’s crazy. So it didn’t make sense for television, it really didn’t. And ice time is expensive. So there was a multitude of reasons why they went away. And it’s a little bit of a shame, but it’s a part of the history of our sport and I don’t think you’ll ever see it back.

Some people say the skaters are jumping more because they have more time, but I spent – not always, but in the last year I spent three to three and a half hours a day doing figures. But that also meant three or four fifteen minute resurfacings of the ice, and it also meant waiting around while the little kids did their freeskates so you could join in their patch session afterwards. It took all day, is my point. And now they have more time to do freeskate and off-ice. I think for some reason or another we do have more injuries, but I don’t necessarily think it’s the new system. I think some of the new skaters overtrain.

On his off-ice training: I played shinny hockey, we played baseball, we played outside, I rode my bike. For three or four summers in a row, and for some winters, I rode my bike 8.2 miles and back to the rink every day, and then that was after skating all day. I sort of did off-ice training, I just didn’t know it.

On being helped at age 17 by Tracy Wainman with his figures: She was literally an artist, like, crazy.  When you think about what a figure should look like, like if you push and try to make a circle in the middle of nowhere, and come back to the same place, and try to match one on the other side, but turning backwards on one foot…crazy stuff.  But she could do 85% or 90% of the figure, which is 35 or 50 feet long if there’s three circles, and all three tracings would be as wide as your index figure. It was amazing. And then her loops, which are only about 10 feet long with both circles included, and there’s a teardrop at the end of it..she could trace most of it, 60-70% of it, in one rut. And it was art, it was absolute art. So…even when she was doing a layout, most of us would just stop and watch. She was so far ahead of the game, it was crazy.

Being able to move your body over a blade on a spot, it’s really neat. I didn’t really begin to enjoy figures until the end. And my coach, Michael Jiranek, he always loved figures, and he very slowly gave me the bug.  I remember in the last year he said that everyone else is going to think that the figures are not important because they’re going out, their priorities are going to be different, so we’re going to do the opposite. And I think he almost did it for himself because he wanted to say goodbye to them. He said we’re going to increase the amount of figures you’re doing every day and decrease the freeskate. And his ploy worked, I came second at the world championship that last year in figures. And it did help.

On working as a TV commentator: Terry (Gannon) just blows me away. He jumps from one sport to another, he knows more about each sport than most people he works with, he’s amazing.  And how he can comfortably just adjust timings and  memorize things and so seamlessly understand how the television system works and get that information out to you..but what amazes me is that he literally knows so much about skating, and then moves to basketball, and then moves to golf – it’s incredible.  And he’s a great guy too. And then Dick (Button) is history, right? Being able to go back in time and talk to him, and he’s so funny.

You talk too much one time, and then you think you get it right the next time, and commentating is one of those jobs where the less you hear about what you did, probably the better job you did. It’s kind of selfish, but you get to be part of everyone’s program, not just your own. You have to wait and you have to do your opening and then you have your little moment, but when you’re commentating, you’re a part – you get to share in everyone’s glory or pain or whatever. It’s pretty cool.

…But you do sometimes get so excited with what’s happening out there that you do talk too much.  And they will come in your ear and say “shut up”, or they’ll yell at you. Oh, they yell [laughs]. “Let the moment play! Shut up! Shut up!” So it’s very exciting.  You feel sort of responsible, first and foremost, for the skater on the ice, and if I do take a shot at a skater I do really try to make sure that they deserve it.  My job is to see, and to say what I see. And it’s the producer’s job to curtail me when I get too far.

And sometimes I’ll say something and Dick will say something which is usually a soliloquy about the skater, and he always has this ability to sum up what’s really happening in the moment. And then after he talks, a quad is coming up, and it’s the make or break moment for this skater, and then I have to kick in and say something about the quad, and…unfortunately we just had a string of 50 or 60 seconds in a row when we’re talking. So I’ll try to keep my comment on the quad short. But sometimes it’s just bad luck between us, or bad timing, and we do end up chatting it up too much.

On doing choreography: Basically, choreographers just want to work with skaters with great versatility. There’s some skaters you want to work with because you have a idea for them that you think might really work.  I had an idea for Sasha Cohen two nights ago and I told her about it casually, and I think she kind of laughed at me. So there you go. I don’t think she’s going to be calling me any time soon.  But I was just watching her skate and I just had a fun exhibition idea for her.  If you see a skater and they inspire an idea for you like Sasha did, then you probably want to work with them.

On whether his son will go into skating: Been there, done that. It’s not like a family business, it’s not like Smith and Sons Moving, it’s figure skating.  It’s not like I can give him the business to take over.  It would be kind of interesting if he did want to be a figure skater, but I don’t really see that that’s going to happen, because he’s only three and I don’t know how much longer I’m going to skate. It’s not like he’s going to be eight years old and be at the rink going “I want to be like Dad”. It’s probably not going to last that long. But I want him to know how to skate, just because it’s such a joy for me. I want him to be able to play hockey or go to the lake and skate or…maybe understand what his old man did, a little bit.

About the Author
Yup, I’m a skating fan. But I’m a skater too. I compete nearly every year in the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships, and am always thrilled to see my other skating buddies there. In my real life I work in marketing for brands that make positive changes in the world, and a mom of two rambunctious boys.

1 comment on “Episode #1: Kurt Browning

  1. Shelly Larson-O'Donnell says:

    Kurt, Our mother, former ice skater, is celebrating her 95th Birthday this August 3rd. Mother hung up her skates in 1987 I believe one year after she had received her G.E.D. from the Bishop. Kurt is it possible for her to receive a photo of you? We will pay for it of course! Her theme is Ice Skating. Still looking for many Skaters to help fulfill her dream. Thanks so much.
    Shelly Larson-O’Donnell
    C/o Helen Hayes- Larson
    816 Tenth Street
    Clay Center, KS. 67432-2705
    Unless your going to be in the area, Minot, North Dakota, we would love to have a guest appearance.
    Shelly Larson-O’Donnell

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *