The Pro-Skate Tour
Angela Greenhow. Photo courtesy "The Canadian Skater", used with permission from Skate Canada
The tour was put on by the Pro-Skate Company, headquartered in New York City, which was formed in 1981. It was owned jointly by Concert Productions International of Toronto (run by Michael Cohl and Bill Ballard) and Leber/Krebs and Pro-Skate International (run by Elva Oglanby), based in New York City. The Canadian events were sponsored by the Labatt Brewing Company Ltd. Concert Productions International (CPI) had certain connections that made a tour like Pro-Skate viable to them. For instance, Maple Leaf Gardens (a stop on the tour) was owned by Bill Ballard's controversial father Howard, a former hockey coach who owned the Toronto Maple Leafs. Other stops on the tour included Halifax, Montreal, Edmonton, Vancouver and Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Debbi Wilkes. Photo courtesy "The Canadian Skater", used with permission from Skate Canada
In her 1994 book "Ice Time", Debbi Wilkes recalled, "When Michael Cohl called Canadian skaters to compete, they all said, 'You'll have to talk to my agent. That was the beginning of a fascinating roller coaster ride. We'd come in all full of bluster and pretend we knew what we were doing. Mel and Gord would stay quiet and make me talk. I'd pull 'girl' and stomp up and down, absolutely refusing whatever they were demanding. I used to think they were standing in the shower in the morning laughing their heads off at us, but we had a good time, learned a lot and made a few bucks. In the end, our skaters weren't the only ones who got paid.'"
Each event offered fifty six thousand dollars in prize money - eight thousand for gold, four thousand for silver and three thousand for bronze. Any skater not placing in the top three earned one thousand for participating. Although many of the skaters praised the opportunity to compete in a non-traditional atmosphere, the general consensus amongst many of the skaters was that the money was the reason they participated. Janet Lynn remarked, "Money certainly has to be considered, especially with three boys to send to college one day." Candy Fraser said, "It's pleasant to get some return for all the money your parents put into it over the years." Toller Cranston added, "It's like jumping into a swimming pool of sharks - but I'm one of the biggest sharks in there. Everyone is really in it for the money - none of us really likes competing."
Photo courtesy "The Canadian Skater", used with permission from Skate Canada
The judging panels for the tour consisted of comprised of eight 'regular judges' (everyone from skating folks to members of the artistic community) and a 'public judge' mark, the average of the marks of ten local celebrities (athletes, university professors, radio hosts, etc.). Each was responsible for marking one category of the performance, ie. jumps, spins, footwork, choreography, etc. on a scale of 10.0. The high and the low marks were thrown out. One of the biggest criticisms of the series was the fact that a technical or compulsory short program was included. In "Canadian Skater" magazine, Carole Stafford noted, "The short programs posed problems for the non-skating judges who were not familiar with compulsory elements and skaters who completed this were not always given the credit they deserved while missing elements were not always penalized as they would be in an amateur competition." As always in professional competition, there were also cries of reputation judging. Debbi Wilkes recalled, "They treated the event like a rock concert. There was respectable prize money, but it got out of hand. It seemed that the winner was whoever had the highest guarantee. That didn't last long because the public wouldn't accept it. Then the skaters started to demand such high fees they priced themselves right out of the market. The competitions didn't make much financial sense. The whole effort was premature."
Bill Jones recalled John Curry's experience participating in the tour in his book "Alone: The Triumph And Tragedy Of John Curry" thusly: "The fledgling professional tour played in five Canadian cities. Against all the odds, Curry appeared happy. Not even the vulgarity of a sponsor (something his contracts usually forbade) seemed to wobble him. Unlike Cranston and Cousins, he had stayed out of the men's 'competition', and appeared only as an exhibitor; skating ethereally to Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata' in Vancouver, the city where they'd once pelted him with drink cans."
Heather Kemkaran, Toller Cranston and Lynn Nightingale. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.
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