Toller Cranston

Toller Cranston at Toronto City Hall

Toller Shalitoe Montague Cranston
Born: April 20, 1949 (Hamilton, Ontario)
Died: January 24, 2015 (San Miguel de Allende, México)

Member:
Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (1977)
Ontario Sports Hall of Fame (1996)
Canadian Figure Skating Hall of Fame (1997)
World Figure Skating Hall of Fame (2004)

The figure skater Toller Cranston was a revolutionary, a man ahead of his time and his sport, a rebel who challenged the established order. While his artistry was not appreciated by the judges of a sport then in the grip of staid and hidebound officials, it is now clear Cranston’s showmanship and balletic performances changed forever the spirit of men’s figure skating.

Toller CranstonCranston won six consecutive national figure-skating titles, the first coming in 1971. He failed to make the Canadian Olympic team in 1968, finished fifth in 1972, and finally won a bronze medal at Innsbruck, Austria, in 1976. The bronze was his highest award at the international level and even at that it was as though he was given the medal grudgingly; at the same time, he felt he was being punished for his balletic interpretation. He was right and he was the harbinger of a new era. Others would benefit from his challenge to the establishment.

“The judging world is an eternal ‘Jurassic Park,’ ” he noted in the book “Zero Tollerance.” “There are always the same dinosaurs out there. They’re immune to the aging process. … They refuse to die.”

He abandoned competition soon after his final Olympics, taking his theatre on ice to skating shows in North America and Europe.

“Skating in its purest form is beautiful itself,” he said in 1977. “I didn’t think we needed chimpanzees coming out on skates. That’s probably the most embarrassing thing for any skater to see.”

In 1992, he sold his possessions, abandoning Canada for San Miguel de Allende, México, a city well regarded for its artistic colony. He pursued painting, an artistic endeavour which he thought would be dismissed in his homeland. He showed a greater discipline at the easel than he had ever done in completing his compulsory figures on ice in competitions.

Cranston wrote or contributed to three autobiographical (though he rejected the label) books — “Toller” (1976), an idiosyncratic collection of poetry and pithy comments; “Zero Tollerance” (1997) and a companion volume “When Hell Freezes Over: Should I Bring My Skates?” (2000).

Cranston died suddenly at his Mexican home from heart failure. He was 65.

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