SPORTS

Former skaters fondly remember Toller Cranston as a "man of extremes"

01/25/2015 07:58 EST | Updated 03/27/2015 05:59 EDT
KINGSTON, Ont. - At the 1976 Olympics, on the way to his bronze medal, Toller Cranston marched to the river and threw his skates in it.

Cranston had done poorly in the compulsory figures, and launched his skates in frustration.

"Then he turned and said 'I will never skate on those again,'" said Olympic teammate Debbi Wilkes, with a laugh.

"He was a man of extremes. Either totally into it, or totally out of it."

A day after the skating legend died at the age of 65, former skaters were lovingly, laughingly sharing stories at the Canadian championships.

Wilkes, an Olympic silver medallist in pairs, trained with Cranston in Toronto in the early years of his career. She was a sympathetic ear for the sometimes-tortured skater, whose attention to artistry would forever change men's figure skating.

"I would say 'If that is your vision, how are you going to find the bravery to be able to display that, despite people laughing, or despite criticism. He certainly developed a passion, and almost an obsession about how he was going to deliver that.

"The funny part is he would often say to me 'I'm not a very good skater.' He would say 'It's bravado, I want to shock people, I want people to be able to see something new and fresh and in order to break down those barriers of awareness 'maybe I need to shock people a little bit.' And he took that on. His subject matter and methods were unheard of at the time.

"We always talked about what courage he had to find to be able to deliver the style that he believed in so strongly."

Wilkes travelled the world with Cranston. They were "crazy" times.

"He was crazy, he was absolutely the weirdest and most wonderful person ever. Incredibly generous, but never spoke about that, and loved the drama, loved the spotlight, wanted to be the centre of attention. Would get very moody if he wasn't," Wilked said.

"But always with an idea about how to broaden people's views. What did he need to do to shock and inspire."

Friends and former skaters refer to the crazy Cranston stories as "Tollerisms." Many of them can't be repeated, Mike Slipchuk said laughing.

"Last time I saw Toller was worlds in London (2013)," said Slipchuk, a former Canadian champion and now Skate Canada's high performance director. "There was a huge line of people waiting to get autographs from him, and he sees me, and he comes straight over, and we sat on two folding chairs across from everyone and talked, and we must have sat there an hour while people were waiting for his autograph."

Eric Radford won his fourth consecutive Canadian pairs title Saturday night with partner Meagan Duhamel. Earlier in the day, he'd sat down to watch some of Cranston's programs on YouTube.

"It's really hard for me to imagine how it was back then in the skating world and exactly what it took for him to just go out there and literally change the face of skating like he did," Radford said. "Even I could compare his actual movements, and his actual routines and his musicality, compare it to today's skaters, he was just phenomenal, and obviously he was a groundbreaker and paved the way for so many other skaters."

Cranston, a six-time Canadian champion, died at his home in Mexico of an apparent heart attack.

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