A Tribute to Toller Cranston

Toller Cranston, the man who changed men’s figure skating for the better and forever, is dead.

Toller Cranston. Photo Credit to Frank Lennon.

Toller Cranston. Photo Credit to Frank Lennon.

He was the forerunner to the top competitors today—Patrick Chan, Yuzuru Hanyu, Denis Ten, Tatsuki Machida, Daisuke Takahashi. However, he was misunderstood and disparaged by some for being atypical, exotic, foppish; in spite of nailing strings of five point nines for Artistic Expression in a sport that wasn’t ready for fluid, balletic elements. At least, not from men.

His nemesis, which kept him from the coveted top spot on the podium, was the technical component, those diabolical compulsory figures dropped in in 1998 mainly because they were too dull for TV. Skaters today aren’t required to cut perfect figure 8s into pristine ice. They have the short program instead.

Of course, to be contenders the boys now-a-days must man up to quads and triples; however, they must also land and link them with beauty and grace. Something Toller always had. Even then I understood the particular challenge he faced in that involuntary role he was fated to play. Precursor to the light in a dark age, he was far ahead of his time with entirely much too much of every quality not desirable in a male sport–an outre cocktail of personality, uniqueness, artistry, vanity and integrity.

Reminded by the archival clips now online, I recall his electrifying performances as he leapt and floated across the grainy black and white set in the seventies—a work of art in air and on ice. No one could execute multiple Russian splits in sequence, perfectly timed to the music or get the height he did.  No one does now. Those performances remain touchstone moments of grace. Still modern. Fresh. Timeless.

Russian Splits. Photo Credit to Frank Lennon.

Russian Splits. Photo Credit to Frank Lennon.

But he was so much more than a skater. Though he has six consecutive Canadian men’s championships, one World Championship Bronze and one Olympic Bronze medal to his credit, he authored numerous books, created and sold tens of thousands of paintings worldwide.

When you see a Cranston painting it’s immediately recognizable. Impossible to have been painted by anyone else.

Alas, we’re a nation not inclined to properly recognize our heroes whatever their oeuvre. Not while we have them or after they’re gone.

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4 Responses to A Tribute to Toller Cranston

  1. Loren says:

    I didn’t hear about this at all. Just found out this moment. I am saddened that his passing evidently wasn’t much commented on here in the USA. I vividly remember his unique grace and artistic flair. I watched AND rooted for him in the seventies and really thought his technical abilities were under-rated. When Brian Boitano finished his 1988 gold medal performance at the Olympics with several russian split jumps, perfectly executed in time to the music, I immediately thought of Toller Cranston. When Boitano won, I know a sea change had occurred in men’s figure skating, and I was glad. It would be difficult to overstate Cranston’s contributions to the development of real artistry in the sport. I missed him in the sport, only saw him a couple of times on TV in exhibitions, then he kind of fell off the radar, so to speak. I regret I didn’t hear of his passing at the time it occurred. I hope other FS fans and competitors do remember him; he deserves it. R.I.P., Toller, and thanks.

    • Lynda says:

      Thank you for your comments, Loren. There are a few items on YouTube you might be interested in checking out. One is a tribute documentary by the skating community and his friends. While he largely disappeared from the skating world, he did continue a rich artistic life with his painting. And yes, sadly, those who are at the forefront of any sea change, as you call it, often do not get the credit or tribute they richly deserve.

  2. Rosemarie Claydon says:

    Beautifully articulated tribute of a truly original, artist-on-ice. I remember watching his breathtakingly creative performances at home or with my class and teachers at school. I was so proud of him both as a Canadian and a creative spirit. What an inspiration, a creative fire, and a model of courage in expressiveness. Thank you, Toller Cranston.

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