Dec. 16, 2003. 01:00 AM
Browning: The family guy
Canadian figure skating icon admits he's in `knee deep' while changing the diapers of his baby son
Kurt Browning is one of the greatest Canadian figure skaters of all time and one of the flashiest showmen.
A three-time Olympian, he won the world championship four times (in 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1993) and was the first skater to land a quadruple jump.
Browning carried the Canadian flag at the opening ceremonies in Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994, but he was a disappointing fifth in that competition.
A recipient of the Order of Canada, Browning won the Lou Marsh Award as Canada's athlete of the year in 1990 and he is a member of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame. But he is perhaps just as well known for his splashy television specials.
In 1996, he married Sonia Rodriguez, a principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada after proposing to her in front of 16,000 people at Maple Leaf Gardens. In July, they had their first child, a son named Gabriel.
Now 37, Browning still competes professionally. But he says he has a different top priority.
Q How has (Gabriel) changed your life?
A Your priorities change; if you have a bad show or a bad practice, it kind of doesn't mean as much any more. As a skater and performer, I think every life experience changes you. I do my own choreography and I'm sure if I'm still skating when Gabriel is old enough to recognize that's dad on the ice, I'll gear a number of things towards kids. I love doing a clown.
Q Do you change diapers?
A Yeah. I'm in there, knee deep. It seems like it's my turn when he's done a big one, and I get it on me.
Q Who takes care of Gabriel?
A We have a nanny in Toronto, and some of my wife's relatives, including her mother, live within five blocks of us, so there's lot of support.
Q Are you cutting back your skating schedule for your son?
A Yes, but I was going to cut back anyway this year. It's just a wonderful coincidence that it comes along when I need to spend time with him. I always told myself I'd do eight years of Stars on Ice (U.S. portion) and then I'd pull back. I'll only do about 20 in the U.S. whereas I used to do 60 or 65.
Q How many weeks a year are you on the road?
A I'll be doing 25 Canadian stops this year, so I'm still pretty busy. I used to be on eight months away from home and this year I'll probably travel three months.
Q As a society, are we good parents?
A Things have changed. I grew up at a time and place that was small town Alberta. There were 30 kids in my class at school and only one set of parents was divorced. Now that has gone much more the other way. It's hard to be a really good parent when there is only one of you. If I had to do this on my own, it might not work.
Q If your son asks you whether he should go into skating or dancing, what would you say?
A I haven't thought about it much. I want him to be able to skate, though. Hockey is such a blast and such a great game. Skating is really, really fun, whether it's outside in the park or doing jumps and stunts for competition. I definitely want to go skating with my son.
Q Would you want him to be a competitive skater?
A I doubt that he would. What are the odds of him making it? I'm not going to push him. I've already lived that life. Actually, I'd prefer if he would go into something else.
Q Did you ever consider another career besides skating?
A I wouldn't change anything in my career. In high school, I thought about becoming an architect, but it took me forever in class to do those drawings. If anything, I would have liked to become any kind of performer or actor. I love the aspect of making people laugh. It's a real high.
Q You moved to Toronto in 1992. In what part of the city do you live?
A The middle ... I don't know — what do you call that?
Q What is your favourite Canadian city besides Toronto?
A I lived in Edmonton for 11 years when I was training, and I loved it. I could go out all the time with my friends. It was like a big, small town. Vancouver is fantastic, too, but I haven't spent a lot of time there.
Q Your favourite foreign city?
A San Antonio, Texas. My wife speaks Spanish and I love Mexican food. There's a golf course, The Quarry, and the River Walk. It's one of the coolest towns. I could vacation there.
Q You play a lot of golf?
A Anywhere from four to 24 rounds a year. I love playing at Angus Glen (in Markham). I'm a bogey player and glad if I break 85, but I love it because you can spend four hours playing with your friends. (Skater) Scott Hamilton and I play regularly.
Golf is one game where you can actually do what the golfers on TV do; you can line up a 75-foot putt and once in a while it goes in.
You can't put on figure skating and go to the rink like I do.
Q You use old movie themes in your shows. Which old movies do you like best?
A Casablanca, An American In Paris, Singing In The Rain. Even as a kid, those movies had a lot of influence on me.
Q Your tastes in music?
A I listen to the Tragically Hip almost every day. They are fun and they've done some solos for me. I also like the Barenaked Ladies and Michael Buble.
Q From your work, you seem like a square guy.
A I'm pretty straightforward; what you see is what you get.
Q We live in an age which sometimes seems cynical. Are you becoming more skeptical about life?
A I think, becoming a parent, I'll have to take more interest on what is on TV and what is on the Internet, and about where my son goes and who his friends are at school. That protective instinct will definitely, unfortunately, make me more skeptical of the world. It's probably a lot different than when I was a child. I used to get on my bike with my friends and ride around in a radius of five miles for hours and hours, then come home for supper. You can't do that now.
Q What's the biggest misconception about you?
A That I'm taller than I look. People will come up to me all the time and say you look so much taller on TV.
Q Among fans, is figure skating less popular then it used to be?
A Skating is still doing well in Canada, but in the U.S., there's been a huge drop in popularity. But even Bruce Springsteen is down. There's a lot of competition for people's entertainment dollars and I think people are spending less since 9/11.
Q What's the state of men's skating in Canada?
A Right now we do have a lull in top performers. There was Brian Orser and then Kurt Browning and then Elvis (Stojko) and then Vic (Victor Kraatz) and David Pelletier. We've always had a succession of good skaters, but right now we don't. But I think there are some new potential stars coming.
Q What has been your biggest accomplishment in skating?
A That I'm still here. Still skating professionally and competitively, at a level that makes me proud.
Q Your biggest disappointment?
A Not doing better in Lillehammer. It was a huge disappointment, but it's not something that lingers. It's not something that had a huge effect on my career.
Q Are you still a good competitive skater?
A That depends on who I'm skating against. I have not been trying any triple Axels lately. But I have pride and I still think I'm competitive. When I step on the ice, I don't save anything.
Q What do you have left to accomplish in life?
A I want to learn another language and to play a musical instrument and do some woodwork, to build stuff. And I want to do more choreography (for amateur skaters), so I'll have to start watching some competitions to see how the new judging system is working.
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