It's been a tough week in terms of remarkable athletes, at least for me. Toller Cranston, who redefined male figure skating (hell, who redefined a lot of figure skating in general) in the 1970s and 1980s, has died at the age of 65, of an apparent heart attack in his adopted home of San Miguel, Mexico.
When I grew up in Canada, figure skating was very important; not as important, perhaps, as ice hockey, but definitely important. And I adored Cranston. He was an artistic virtuoso. Watch his short program below, and you won't see the stratospheric jumps common among male figure skaters today (jumps that were pioneered by other Canadian skaters like Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko). What you will see is an elegant and seamless marriage of art and athleticism that has become a rarity in the field.
During his amateur career, it was obvious that judges either didn't know what to do with him, hated him, or hated the fact that they loved him. He never got to the top of heap, partly because of his style, and undoubtedly because of his caustic, snarkily humorous, and brutally honest observations about judges and, less often, other skaters - although he could also be supportive and kind to skaters.
It didn't matter. None of that mattered. He outshone all his detractors, even with the inconsistency that was his one bugaboo. (I don't consider his battles against the classic figures as a problem; he correctly said putting so much emphasis on figures was foolish, and that was one place the skating world eventually agreed with him.)
He was also a painter, whose works were displayed all over the world, and it was that art that sustained him after he left figure skating.
I once got the chance to interview him, as a reporter in Moncton. At the end of the interview, which was a joy, because he was, as always, a sparkling conversationalist, he gave me a small postcard with a piece of his art on it. I don't think I still have that, and I'm sorry it's disappeared in the decades since then.
There will never be another Toller Cranston, and the world is poorer for his absence.
This entry was originally posted at http://kaffyr.dreamwidth.org/343432.html?mode=reply, where there are currently comments. You can comment there or here; I watch both.