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Toller Shalitoe Montague Cranston, CM (born April 20, 1949) is a Canadian figure skater and painter. He is the 1971-1976 Canadian national champion, the 1974 World bronze medalist, and the 1976 Olympic bronze medalist. Although, because of poor compulsory figures, he never won a world level competition, he won the small medal for free skating at the 1972, 1974, and 1975 World Figure Skating Championships. Cranston is credited by many with bringing a new level of artistry to men's figure skating.
After an initial failed experience with ballet lessons, Cranston started skating at the age of 7, when his parents bought him hockey skates. He experimented on his own with trying to dance on the ice, and was only later told that what he was doing was called "figure skating". His mother was reluctant to allow him to pursue the sport seriously, but at the age of 11 he met Eva Vasak, who was impressed by his talent and offered to coach him for free. Vasak coached him for the next 8 years.
When Cranston was 13, he developed Osgood-Schlatter disease and was initially told that he would never skate again. After 8 weeks in a cast, he resumed training, and won the Canadian Junior Championship the next month. This was in 1964. But, in the next few years, Cranston met with little success at the senior level. As he was dividing his attention with art school at this time, his physical conditioning was poor and he struggled to make it through his programs, which at that time were 5 minutes for senior men.
After failing to make the Canadian team for the 1968 Winter Olympics, Cranston struggled with motivation and lack of training discipline. His career turned a corner when he began to work with coach Ellen Burka in Toronto in the following season. Burka forced him to do complete runthroughs of his entire program and his results began to improve: third at the Canadian championships in 1969, and second in 1970.
Cranston quickly gained a reputation as the most innovative and exciting artistic skater of his time, one of the first to emphasize use of the whole body to express the music, to lie down while sliding down the ice and to wear elaborate costumes. He was particularly known for the quality and inventiveness of his spins, which were widely copied by other skaters. (Cranston, incidentally, was a clockwise spinner and jumper.) Canada had several other top World class skaters at this time that "jumped left handed". The quality of his precision landings and inventive choreography was topped by his combination jumps that included triple revolution jumps. It is harder to complete as much revolution in a jump combined with other jumps. Soon reports from competitions of this period began to mention younger skaters who had become "Tollerized" by attempting to copy Cranston's style, which was characterized by contrasting very stretched positions with a high free leg with more angular, bent-leg positions, and the incorporation of elements such as running toe steps and high kicks in step sequences. Many of his original spins included many changes of positions that seemed to defy gravity. His Russian split jump was "over split" which brought his skates up to shoulder height instead of waist height.
Even during his competitive career, Cranston had talked about his goal in skating being to create what he called "theatre on ice", or skating as a form of dance expression, rather than winning medals. He explained that the purpose of perfecting the technical aspects of the sport was to allow the body to express the music or emotion.
He won his first national title in 1971 with a performance that included triple salchow and loop jumps, and received a standing ovation from the audience. But, it was in the 1972 season that he really established his reputation in the sport. At the 1972 Canadian championships, his marks included 4 6.0s for artistic impression and 6 5.9s for technical merit. At this time the Artistic Impression mark was supposed to be graded on the quality of the jumps, landings and spins and the choreography to the music. Cranston skated poor compulsory figures at the 1972 Winter Olympics, but turned in a strong program to finish 5th in the free skating. Then, at the 1972 World Figure Skating Championships, he won the free skating with another superb performance, again landing triple loop and salchow jumps and receiving a thunderous standing ovation as well as a perfect 6.0 mark for artistic impression.
January 1st, 2013
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