#Unearthed: A Chat With Toller


When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time.

This month's gem is an IRC chat with Toller Cranston conducted during the 1996 World Figure Skating Championships in Edmonton, Alberta. The chat was arranged by the "Edmonton Journal" and a transcript was later published on the website for the competition. The month of the event, Toller was in town skating on artificial ice in the second act of the Edmonton Opera's performance of "Die Fliedermaus" and giving an exhibition of his paintings at the Kathleen Laverty Gallery.

IRC CHAT WITH TOLLER CRANSTON (MARCH 23, 1996)


Left: "The Snail Lady", a composition study once owned by Toller Cranston. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library. Right: Toller Cranston with one of his paintings.

Toller: Good evening, everybody, from Toller

FROM Robbyn: Can you ask Toller when he first started skating?

Toller: Robbyn, well, it's been so long, it's really pretty difficult to remember, but I figure it's been from the age of six and I started skating in Kirkland Lake, Ontario.

FROM Melinda: Welcome Toller. I think you are wonderful. Are you in any skating shows this spring?

Toller: Hi Melinda, Last Christmas I broke my leg and then I had to really reassess my life and whether or not I could continue skating. This past summer I made a movie with Katarina Witt which was kind of ostensibly my comeback to skating and with regard to the spring, I have very little planned but I'm available.

FROM Rodent: Tell Toller the rodent says hello and welcome to cyberspace. Congrats on transforming from the renaissance man to cyber skater. :)

Toller: Rodent, It's been too long! And I've decided that the twenty first century is not for me, and how do I get back to the fourteenth? And how much does it cost?

FROM Janice: What do you think about the rule to ban Kristi and Kurt from skating [in the exhibitions]?

Toller: Janice, This is the age of O.J. Simpson and Herzegovina, and one disaster after another. When people like Kurt and Kristi can give so much pleasure to so many people, isn't it pathetic that they couldn't skate for their fans?

Toller: Robbyn, You asked how it was skating with Katarina Witt. Katarina Witt is a fabulous and extremely down-to-earth girl, and working with her, as you can imagine, and as anyone can imagine, was wonderful.

Toller: DJS, About overcoming a difficult skate... DJS, I've had so many disasters and so much turbulence in my life, it's the good performances that are hard to remember. But the way that you cope with any of this and the precise advice I gave to Elvis two minutes after he skated was that maybe he lost a battle, but that he's fighting to win a war. And that this is just part of the texture of what is and will be a spectacular and dramatic career. Go Elvis Go!

FROM Katikam: Toller, what do you consider the single most important characteristic necessary for a skater to have today?

Toller: Katikam, I think the most important thing is the implicit belief that anything is possible to a willing heart. P.S. Stupidity is a distinct advantage.

FROM Katikam: Stupidity.....in terms of ignorance and willingness to take risks?

Toller: Katikam, I used the word stupidity seriously because many people could never follow the rocky road of international competition. If they really knew the kind of agony, frustration, and torment they would experience along the way, frankly, it's much better not to know what's around the next corner. And one hopes that there are no monsters lurking behind bushes. If you catch the drift.

FROM Janice: Does he like the turn skating has taken? With the pros and the amateurs?

Toller: Janice, I hate to tell you, Janice, but in the words of Joan Rivers... 'can we talk?' There hasn't been an amateur alive, for what I'm sure is, the last twenty five years. There is no difference between amateur and professional. It is simply a question of semantics and greediness on the part of official organizations... ie. the ISU and various and sundry organizations.

FROM Janice: I understand and love you Toller.

FROM Rockwell: How does it feel to see a new generation of skaters still using your style of spins?

Toller: Rockwell, The new generation depresses me because I really can't afford a major face lift, but I guess the fact that they're emulating many of the things that I invented, spins included. I suppose it's quite flattering.

FROM Sandra: Many of the other fans on the net have been concerned that the glut of pro competitions in the last year or two has been bad for the sport in general because they lack any credibility in the rules or judging. What's your take on this?

Toller: Sandra, The pro competitions are wonderful for the sport because, Sandra, let's fact it, the most known skaters in the world are professional, and the most known skaters in the world are huge icons and role models for all other skaters, especially the amateurs. Don't you think Kurt Browning, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Scott Hamilton have really contributed more to the sport in a global way than almost any of the amateurs? I also am a professional judge, interestingly, amongst top professionals and Olympic medallists. There is a vast and divided opinion as to who should come where, and so I think that, although there are politics involved, usually the people that win in important professional competitions win legitimately. Too bad judges didn't get a cut.

FROM Janice: Do you think a skater with raw talent can make it in this weird aristocratic world of figure skating without losing his passion?

Toller: Janice, Talent is not necessarily an important criteria for being a champion. Great talent can even be a handicap, and raw talent is worthless without meticulous polish and refinement. Personally, I'm a big supporter of guts and money. But especially money!

FROM Bianca: I would like to know which of the new skaters really impress you and why.

Toller: Bianca:,I don't know if you're privy to seeing the World Championships here in Edmonton. There are many extraordinary new kids on the block... Ilia Kulik, in the last two days here in Edmonton, has become an international star and a sex symbol (similar to Kurt). Irina Slutskaya, from Russia, is unknown today but quite conceivably tomorrow (long program for the women's competition) could also become an international idol overnight. She's also, I think, one of the best bets for becoming an Olympic champion in 1998. But my personal favorite, the fifteen year old girl that I adore and is so charming and refined when those two aspects have become rare, is a young skater from Switzerland whose name is Lucinda Ruh. Can forty seven year-olds marry fifteen year-olds or will I be arrested?

FROM Janice: Toller, when you paint, do you have any special way you like to organize your ideas or do they just lash out on the canvas?

Toller: Janice, I can't give painting lessons tonight, Janice, but I employ something which I cannot possibly explain, but some people out there will know about the secret technique of using the "third eye". I am a virtual expert in this department, but only the people who are aware of this ability know what I am talking about. And by the way, Janice, do you have an art collection? Would you like to buy a painting?

FROM Cattibri: Toller, as a judge, can you please comment on the skating style of Bourne and Kraatz?

Toller: Cattibri: I love Bourne and Kraatz. They have the quintessential qualities of becoming truly great skaters, and perhaps the only North Americans in recent memory who can ever consider competing and triumphing over Russian couples. But they're not there yet. And there are many miles of skating for them to cover before they are in combat range.

FROM Sandra: I'm very curious to hear what you think about Rudy Galindo - he actually reminds me very much of you!

toller: Sandra, Rudy Galindo has become a role model for many as he proved that by not giving up and adhering to his dreams that anything's possible. Last night Rudy Galindo paid me the greatest compliment and said that I had had a profound influence on his career, but that he didn't feel he's as good as I am. I, of course, told him that he was slightly ridiculous and thanked him for the tribute. But, although people may feel there's a similarity between us, and I do understand why they may feel this, but personally, if Rudy's on the moon, I'm on Mars. We can only wave at each other from a distance.

FROM Cybermom: Is off-ice dance important to a developing skater?

Toller: Dear Cybermom, Are you interested in coaching? That is a profound question. And yes! Off-ice dance is madly important. By the way kids, has anybody seen the movie "Strictly Ballroom"? Go babies, go!

FROM Cybermom: No, but I am a figure skating mom, with three boys who love to skate, In a HOCKEY village that's not so easy.

Toller: Dear Cybermom, I can't imagine that any young male - hockey player - small town boy - could possibly fail to be awed by people like Todd Eldredge and Elvis Stojko. Can you?

FROM Janice: Did you enjoy touring with Skate the Nation? Did you fill them with your deep knowledge?

Toller: Janice, Part of me loved skating with many of my friends in Skate the Nation. However, part of me hated visiting Kalamazoo. Kalamazoo people, no offence. But, I'm convinced that they all came out of the tour supersaturated, but I'm not absolutely certain it was with my profound knowledge. I have another word for it.

FROM Janice: Does he like the turn skating has taken? With the pros and the amateurs?

Toller: Janice, As mentioned before, there is no difference between a pro and an amateur. However, there is a common denominator that both aspire to, and that is great skating. Capiche?

FROM Rockwell: Do you think judges have kept abreast of what is actually taking place on the ice and do you think there is a better way to score skaters?

Toller: Good question, Rockwell. You just opened a can of worms. Don't tell anybody, but I have virtually no respect for practically any judge. Some of the judging at the World Championship does not pass the laugh test. Judges should be professional and ANY judge judging top international competitions, should have been an international competitor themselves. Judges should also be accountable and in a public forum after important competitions coerced into explaining precise marks. As you should know, there's a certain elite snobbery that permeates the upper echelons of the judging stratosphere, and most refuse to respond to any serious and pointed question. A judge over the years is often concerned about fitting in the sandwich between the two slices of bread and not wanting to be a pickle on a side plate. Often, the extreme mark by some adventuresome and daring judge, high or low, is the only precise judgment. Incidentally, what about having a dictator on the panel and simply having one person (like me, for instance) decide who should really be the World Champion? I think I'm made for the job!

FROM Sandra: Well, if you *were* the dictator, who *would* be world champion? :-)

Toller: Dear Sandra: As vitriolic and down on judges as I am, strangely, the people that win World's today or come second or third are invariably judged properly. It is only individuals and individual marks that I take exception to and as a passionate skater I feel that public execution is a possible solution. I hate to see any injustice committed to any skater from any country. Got it?

FROM Katikam: If you were giving advice to a young person, just starting out in skating...what "words of wisdom" would you give them?

Toller: Dear Katikam... Your question is sincere. But I can't help but be a bit flip. My words of advice would be "chase your passion and make it happen! If you don't enjoy it, give it a rest!"

FROM Robbyn: Out of all the places you have toured, which was your most favorite?

Toller: Dear Robbyn: I'm going to give you three of my top 50. #1: I had a splendid time two years ago in Stars On Ice with the likes of Yamaguchi, Wylie, Orser, etc., in Sao Paulo, Brazil. We felt like the Beatles bringing a new art form to a country that, up until that time, was ignorant of top-quality skating. #2: would have to be, and don't criticize me, an exhibition done in 1985 in Sun City, South Africa. I can't tell you how much fun that was. And #3: and perhaps more seriously, an extraordinary trip to Beijing in the early eighties was as fascinating as it was peculiar, not to mention historical. Has anyone seen the Ming Tombs lately?

FROM Janice: If you could go back to the Renaissance for one day, would you take something back with you and what?

Toller: Dear Janice: If I went back to the Renaissance, what city might I be in? And as I couldn't take, at least I don't think I could lift it, Michelangelo's 'David', I guess I'll have to settle on the 'Mona Lisa' which is infinitely more portable. And, I might add, probably more valuable. I don't think either are available today, however.

FROM Sandra: I always get a good laugh out of those absolutely withering put-downs you come up with. Is there anything or anybody you'd like to insult while you're here? :-) :-)

Toller: Dear Sandra: Lovely question... in fact, there is one person. I was extremely disgusted with the gutless marks of one Mary Pearson (Vancouver judge) who awarded Elvis Stojko, after his near flawless performance and triumphant comeback (A MAJOR FEAT) with a 5.7. Does anyone know her address? And can we send her something nasty?

FROM Rodent: Toller. do you have any programs in Worlds this year?

toller: Dear Rodent: How are you, baby? No, I don't have any programs, but I have half a dozen costumes floating around. Check out Lucinda Ruh's pink long program dress.

FROM Katikam: Toller, do you interpret passion as the ability to express your inner self on the ice in front of an audience?

toller: Dear Katikam: You are obviously a serious person, and I am obviously not. But, on that note, if I can be serious, for one moment in time, "passion" comes from the reservoir of the soul and is revealed in body language, whatever that vocabulary may be, indigenous to the specific individual. Passion conquers all in the final analysis.

FROM Robbyn: This question has to do with your artwork, do you have a favorite piece?

Toller: Dear Robbyn, My favorite piece, without a doubt, is the very last one that was sold. By the way, do you have an art collection? And if you do, how do I get your phone number?

FROM Melinda: Are you enjoying the Worlds so far?

toller: Dear Melinda: Prozac is quite a divine drug. I'm talking to you, Melinda. Worlds has been more divine than I had ever imagined it would be. And on that DIVINE note, I bid thee all farewell! Keep skating, kids!

FROM Janice: THANK YOU TOLLER!!

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