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Ice Skating: Cousins adds fire to the ice: Simon O'Hagan reports on the dashing blade with a score to settle

STEVEN COUSINS has tried a variety of music to accompany the routines which have taken him to the top of British figure skating. The Pet Shop Boys, Herbie Hancock, Phil Collins, Queen. All good to glide and triple-salchow to. And then he had this brilliant idea for next year's Winter Olympic Games.

'I sat down and thought, OK, the Olympics, that's where I want to be, that's what I want to do. So, where are the Olympics? Norway. Right, I thought. I'll use music from Norway. Folk music, anything I could find. Absolutely terrible stuff, it was. I thought, there's no way I can skate to anything like this. So I had to think again.'

Cousins quickly realised that if you put the Olympic Games and music together there is generally only one thing you can come up with: the Chariots of Fire theme. 'I know it's a bit of a cliche, but it seems to work,' he says. And there is the saving grace that it isn't the title music, but a less instantly recognisable passage from the middle of the film.

Whether the Lillehammer judges would have preferred whatever Oslo's version of The Chieftains is we shall never know. But the judges at Basingstoke on Thursday were happy with their spot of Vangelis, or at least the routine that went with it. Cousins finished well clear of his six rivals in the British men's figure skating championships to win his fifth successive title. On Friday his selection as the nation's representative in the event at the winter Games in February was a formality. He was also chosen for the European championships in Copenhagen which precede the Olympics, but he must wait to see if he will be sent to the world championships in Japan which follow.

Cousins is 6ft and solidly built - of his two most celebrated predecessors, closer in physique to Robin Cousins (no relation) than John Curry. He skates with power rather than grace, and his Chariots of Fire routine, which comprises representations of various Olympic sports, from fencing and rowing to swimming and discus, reflects this. But he's an exciting performer, handsome, clean-cut and with a big smile. He's 21 and looks like a Jet from West Side Story.

Cousins has to stop himself from saying that it's because he works harder than anyone else that he has succeeded. 'But I feel I train as hard as I can physically and mentally and it gives me a psychological edge.' He also has a formidable back- up team - three coaches in Canada, where he has been based for the last three years, and in Britain the husband- and-wife team of Stephen Pick

avance, a former British champion, and Karen Barber, who with Nicky Slater formed Britain's other ice dance partnership when Torvill and Dean were at their height. Pickav

ance and Barber helped Cousins devise his programme. He also has a benefactor in an American woman about whom he is reluctant to reveal much.

Then there are Cousins' parents, Dave and Val, who travelled down and back from their home in Deeside every day for three days last week to watch their son. Val is a nursery nurse and couldn't be away from work. It was all a far cry from 15 years ago when the six- year-old Cousins first stepped on to the local rink. 'I hated it,' he says. 'But my older brother was skating, too, and doing well, so it spurred me to have another go. It was jealous- brother syndrome.'

It was around the age of 13 that Cousins made significant progress. Until then, John Martin, the skater who finished runner-up to Cousins last week, and others had the measure of them. But the roles have been reversed, and now Cousins is comfortably the best skater in Britain.

He is realistic about his prospects for Lillehammer, though. A place in the top 10 is his ambition. But he may be underselling himself. At the Skate Canada meeting three weeks ago he finished third in a field which included both the world and European champions. And not choosing to skate to Norwegian folk music could be the best decision he ever made.

(Photograph omitted)