Browning mentoring Canadian Olympians

KATHY RUMLESKI - London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

Three-time Olympic figure skater Kurt Browning, in London Sunday for the Desjardins World Team Challenge, figures he has something to offer athletes preparing for the 2006 Turin Olympics.

Browning, who helped the Canadian team win the challenge at the John Labatt Centre, has signed on to be a mentor to several Canadian athletes through a unique program sponsored by Visa Canada.

The program offers a support network to eight athletes -- chosen because of their sporting achievements and community work -- by putting them in touch with former Olympians.

Browning, who never did win an Olympic medal but was a four-time world champion, said the pressure of the Olympics can be extremely intense and he wishes a mentoring program had been available for him.

"There were definitely a couple of moments where I could have looked for somebody who wasn't media, who wasn't on my team, who wasn't my family or friends," he said.

The amiable Browning said he was nervous at first about how much responsibility he would have with this program. He was worried he'd get an 11th-hour phone call: "I'm phoning you from Italy. It's 4 a.m. I can't sleep and I have to do this (compete) tomorrow. I have a chance to (win a) medal. What do I do?"

But then he realized he can help a "freaked-out" athlete.

"The more I thought about it, I'm pretty confident I can say something positive and put them in the right frame of mind."

Browning and the other mentors, Nathalie Lambert, a gold medallist in short-track speed skating, and Ian Balfour, a skiing Paralympian, met with the athletes in the program two weeks ago.

The mentors touched on topics such as finances, the media, focus and motivation.

"We got to the nitty-gritty of what it's like to be an athlete going to the Olympics," Browning said.

He believes he has a unique perspective on competing at the Games because he's been there three times.

"In 1988 (Calgary), it was just a joy to be there. In 1992 (Albertville), I was off the ice for two months with one month to get ready because of a bad back. Lillehammer (1994) was there and then it was gone.

"That sums it up."

Browning speculated about how figure skater Jeffrey Buttle, an athlete in the Visa program who began his skating career in London, might feel heading to the Olympics after winning a silver medal at last year's worlds.

"I remember when I was world champion for the first time, my skates felt different. It felt like everybody was staring at me instead of watching me. If I was going to talk to Jeff about anything, I would talk about whether or not he feels different because of his rapid success last year."

The other athletes in the program are: Colette Bourgonje, nordic skiing Paralympian; Emily Brydon, alpine skiing; Jeff Christie, luge; Deidra Dionne, freestyle skiing aerials; Danielle Goyette, hockey; Clara Hughes, speed skating; Brian McKeevor, nordic skiing Paralympian.


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