Kurt Browning has been called many things in his life: Four-time world figure skating champion. Guinness World Records holder. Commentator. Choreographer. Distinguished member of the Order of Canada. Male athlete of the year. Canadian Sports Hall of fame inductee. Dad.
But what he is really known as is “The Performer.”
Arguably one of Canada’s best loved figure skaters, local fans will be able to see “The Performer” when he joins some of the best to ever lace skates for the Holiday Festival on Ice, which makes its only B.C. stop at Kal Tire Place in Vernon Dec. 4.
For those with tickets (and as of press time, there were some still on sale), you’ll get to see the Browning of old when he reprises his famous Singing in the Rain routine, topped with that trademark hat.
“I was actually requested to do it for a show in China, and I thought I would do it for Holiday Festival on Ice,” said Browning. “I will be wearing the original fedora from 20 years ago and my costume, which is now held up with some safety pins and duct tape.”
Over the years, Browning has experienced his own share of costume changes, and the occasional wardrobe malfunction.
“I remember one of our more interesting ones was when four of us male skaters dressed as Can Can dancers, with bustiers and fishnet stockings for Stars on Ice… Denis (Petrov) had the best legs,” he laughed.
Browning’s more memorable costume was when he served as host and judge on CBC’s now defunct Battle of the Blades.
“It was Halloween and I remember being dressed as a guy going to work, however, on one side of my costume, from my leg to my head, I was the Joker from Batman.”
As a commentator for the CBC at international figure skating competitions, including many World Cup events and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Browning has seen his fair share of interesting get ups.
“I still think if the costume isn’t adding anything, it’s just distracting. Some people can wear shimmery sequins. Some don’t look comfortable. There is also lots of see-through going on now. When Adam (Rippon) wears it, you think, ‘on Adam that makes sense.’ If you’re wearing that kind of costume with ease, then go for it, but if you look like a giraffe with shoulder pads, then you have to ask yourself why.”
Browning says his commentating gig has also helped him understand the judge’s role better.
“Being in the commentator’s chair is a bit like being a judge,” he said. “You have to think about how much time you have to speak while being entertaining and as a commentator, you are providing opinion.”
And that includes his opinion on what has become known as the “quad controversy.”
Browning knows what landing a quadruple jump means for a competitive skater. He is the Guinness World Record holder as the first person to successfully land a quadruple jump in international competition, a feat he accomplished at the World Championships in 1988.
Still considered the toughest jump there is in figure skating, much has been made in recent years on whether skaters should attempt the quad jump in competition in order to land on the podium.
The 2010 Vancouver Olympics male figure skating event sparked controversy when American skater Evan Lysacek beat out Russian Evgeni Plushenko for the gold, although he did not perform the quad, while Plushenko did.
Plushenko and former Canadian world champion Elvis Stojko were among those who were quite vocal about the results, accusing the judges of being unfair.
“My biggest complaint is that Evan had the better skate. It may have been super tame. It was not risky, but (Plushenko) fell out of the triple axel with both hands,” said Browning. “There have been scores before that show you can be an Olympic champion without the quad. They have won with musicality and style, but it doesn’t happen as well as those who are landing a quad and are also using that along with musicality and jumping skills – skaters such as Patrick Chan and Adam Rippon. It just gives you those extra three to five points.”
It also comes down to the fact that judges are human, adds Browning.
“The judges come in really prepared. They watch these skaters all year and see their technique and they come in with a plan. But sometimes skaters can have a bad week in practice and then blow it out of the water in competition. (The judges) are not prepared to give marks out to that skater, then do because they deserved it. There are no rules, but judging in singles skating, to be honest, is pretty damn fair. It can be deemed as out of whack as it’s not a race where the leader wins by 00.7 of a second.”
Browning himself has sat in the judge’s chair when he served on CBC’s Battle of the Blades, sort of a Dancing with the Stars on ice, which saw professional figure skaters teamed up with hockey players.
“One of the things that was happening was the hockey players were getting too good. We were waiting for them to get hurt with all their strength and confidence… There was an incredible level of danger. When it was cancelled, we got out of it before anyone got seriously hurt,” said Browning.
Those attending Holiday Festival on Ice are going to see the same level of performance in a fun, seasonal-infused show.
“The cast is unbelievable. You are getting skaters with world and Olympic titles,” said Browning. “It’s a Christmas tradition for a lot of us. Many of us are good friends and we enjoy the bus ride catching up with each other, along with the rehearsing.”
Joining Browning will be 2014 U.S. Olympic gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White, world champion Yuka Sato of Japan, along with Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond. Also on board is Canadian national silver medalist Sean Sawyer.
“He has earned his spot on every show on the planet with his artistry and style, and back flips,” said Browning, adding that U.S. National champion Ryan Bradley will likely show off his multiple versions of the back flip.
“I’ve seen him do it with a sideways twist and it’s how he lands that is amazing. He’s a tall guy so I don’t know how he does it.”
Also on ice will be two-time Russian Olympic pairs gold medalist Ekaterina (Katia) Gordeeva, who Browning says is now doing shows with Olympic and Canadian champion David Pelletier.
They just did a performance in memory of Gordeeva’s husband and former pairs partner Sergei Grinkov.
Canadian Olympic bronze medalist Jeffrey Buttle, who also works as a choreographer, is also one to watch, said Browning.
“He’s super smart when he takes a simple theme and a clean piece of music. Those smart decisions make his choreography something that we can learn quickly, and it looks great.”
In addition to this powerful lineup and being the only show in B.C., Holiday Festival on Ice is a fundraiser for the North Okanagan Youth and Family Services Society.
Tickets are still available, although the $45 family friendly seats are nearly sold out, said David Hesketh, one of the organizers.
“In addition, we are excited to share that with ticket sales to date, this fundraiser has covered all costs associated to bringing in the show. This means that from here on in, every ticket purchased will directly benefit NOYFSS. This show is a fantastic way to support our youth and everyone is welcome to join us Dec. 4 at 4 p.m.”
Tickets and information can be obtained at the Ticket Seller, 250-549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.