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KurtKountry: An Unofficial Kurt Browning Website

DECEMBER 11-12, 1998

Kurt Browning accepts American Skating World's Pro Skater of the Year Award.

The 1998 World Professional Figure Skating Championships were held December 11 & 12, 1998 at the MCI Center in Washington, DC. They were televised January 22 & 23, 1999 on NBC-TV in the USA.

This was the third consecutive year I attended this event. I have been going to skating competitions since 1981, and have gotten to know many fine people in the sport. I enjoy this event particularly because it gives me a chance to see my very good friend, Kurt Browning, who was hoping for a fourth victory in as many years.

I knew other people who were competing too... Todd Eldredge and Yuka Sato -- great people... And due to rulings allowing Olympic-Eligible skaters to compete, I was fortunate enough to see my friends Michelle Kwan and Nicole Bobek, as well. Of course, this was going to make Kurt's defense a difficult one, as he would have to face current World ("Amateur") Champion, Alexei Yagudin head to head.

Opening the event, signing the Star Spangled Banner was Miss America 1999, Nicole Johnson of Virginia. Looking resplendant, in her tailored business suit, she sang with pride. Johnson, like her predecessors, is an excellent example of the modern American woman. I particularly admire her commitment to diabetes education and awareness, as she requires the constant use of an insulin pump, herself.

Due to the fact, that this is a new arena, they were able to accomodate my wheelchair at ice level. So my seat was right at the boards. when Kurt came out for his warm-up, he noticed me, pointed and waved. His warm-up went very well. So well in fact they he skated by to say "hi" to me, (as he had at the US Pro Classic in October 1998, which he went on to win.) delighting the spectators seated around me.

I thought he would skate well coming off his recent wins at US Pros and the Canadian Open, but it was not to be. A couple of hand touch-downs, and a "popped" triple Salchow, left my buddy in fourth pace after his Romeo & Juliet technical program, dispite his usual brilliant footwork, strong spins, and engaging personality.

Backstage after his skate, he told me that the warm up felt good and the jumps were fine in the air. He just couldn't seem to "find the ice" on his landings.

Still, he wasn't as depressed as I thought he would be. Due to his crazy schedule, we hadn't had a chance to talk in almost a year.

Kurt and I met at 1988 World Championships in Budapest, Hungary and immediately formed a bond -- just one of those magical things, I guess. His popularity has grown so, that our friendship has suffered recently... He couldn't even find a minute to chit-chat at US Pros... and the fact that he would not be doing Stars On Ice in the U.S. would not help, but his schedule would not allow that either.

So we spent time trying to figure away for me to catch him on the Canadian tour... which might actually happen. We also talked about his artistic "clown" program for the following night. He said I'd like it... but it was better from the other side... "maybe if I come to Canada." He picked on my new short haircut, then had to go to a press conference.

The next night was decidedly better for my buddy, his new "clown" routine was a major hit with audiences and judges alike. Kurt received thunderous applause ...and even a few "perfect" 6.0s! He was so excited, I even got a wave before he left the ice.

It was a truly magical night. Both Michelle and Yuka were awesome, and Nicole Bobek had triumphed over a disasterous warm-up to deliver a truly electrifying program.

Kurt won the artistic program, but was second to Yagudin overall. This did not mean he would leave without a trophy, however. As Sandra Bezic presented Kurt with American Skating World's Professional Skater of the Year Award, he was unaware that his image was being projected on an overhead screen. Tears rolled down his cheeks as Bezic extolled "our buddy's" extraordinary accomplishments. Kurt took the microphone to thank, among others, his parents (who were in attendance), Bezic, Scott Hamilton... and even the camera opeator recording the event (though I knew NBC would not show it)!

Kurt was still in tears when caught up with him backstage. He ran to me and placed the rather large trophy on my lap. He said: "I thought if you won this thing, you had to give it back... but look my name is already on it!" He gently fingered the inscription. I told him I was proud of him and that he deserved the honor.

Then he noticed I was holding a wrapped Christmas gift. "Is that for me?" he asked. "Can I open it?!" He loves presents. It was a Wizard of Oz scarecrow "beanie baby". "My inspriration!" he shouted as he put through the moves from his That's Entertainment, Part III program. "I think he should live in my skatebag", he proclaimed seriously. "Wouldn't that be a good place for him to live?" I just nodded. Whatever! He was so-oo happy!!!

I asked if he was going to the party upstairs. He said: "eventually"... after he changed clothes, did his press conference and drug-testing, but to wait for him, so we could "have a beer."

Actually, he could have a beer. I don't drink, but it's his idea of "male-bonding", so I was honored!

Due to all of his commitments, it took quite a while for Kurt to arrive at the party, in a gorgeous room, overlooking the ice. Crowded with more than 450 people (only 400 were said to be invited), it was difficult to find anyone. I did, however, get to congratulate Michelle Kwan on yet another brilliant performance... and hug, one my special friends, Nicole Bobek, and tell her how proud I was that she was able to tough out a stellar number. She tried to talk my mother into taking me to 1999 U.S. nationals in Salt Lake City, Utah. (but since certain people are not doing the US SOI tour, and I may be trekking up to Toronto) we just can't afford to do everything! Sorry, Nicole!

I briefly saw Sandra Bezic, she's done such a great job with the "clown", but as she put it, "Kurt has such great range!"

I also had a moment to visit with the lovely, Yuka Sato ( a gracious lady, with the warmest, most sincere smile in the skating business. Katarina Witt, looking gorgeous, stopped by to offer warm Holiday wishes...And even, Pasha, who I've only encountered casually before, made her way through the crowd to say hello.

I was getting tired. and was about to give up and leave, just as Kurt arrived, he was immediately mobbed, of course, blocking the exits... so I figured I may as well stay and wait some more. By the time, he made his way to me and pulled up a chair, (at least 45 minutes has passed) they were clearing away the food and closing the bar. Mom offered to get him something, but he declined. I introduced him to my good friend, Lisa Calandriello... and we began to chat... about his award... and the accompanying certificate he had just received... a bit about Sonia, and her beautiful Spanish accent. He said he hoped Toronto wouldn't be to cold for me. I told him it wasn't definate that I could come. He said he'd like me to see the show, and that he just may be wearing a painted clown face by then. I expressed that I would miss him in California this year. He reminisced: "...yeah...we had dinner...and..." Then, thankfully, he stopped as tears began to fill both our eyes. The subject changed to my health, and how just the thought of his friendship and support helped me through a very hard time. "You're so strong," he whispered. My heart was starting to break, it was getting late (or early, as it was now Sunday -- technically) and we had to "walk" back to the hotel in the rain, so I felt it was time to go.

"Pretend, you're singing in the rain!" Kurt tried to joke, but neither one of us felt like smiling. He asked for a hug, "You're a cool guy.. you know that, right?" "If you say so.." I replied. He squeezed my shoulders, saying "I wish I could do more."

That was it.

Special Thanks To: Dick Button and Jirina Ribbens of CANDID PRODUCTIONS for their continued kindness and support!