Ice skating: Leading ice dance pairs excluded from Olympics

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The Independent Online
British ice skating is in a state of shock following the decision not to take four of their top performers to next year's Winter Olympics in Japan.

The British ice dance pair preparing to follow in the steps of Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean at next February's Winter Olympics have been told not to bother.

Marika Humphreys and Philip Askew - coached by the woman who guided Torvill and Dean, Betty Callaway - are not of a sufficiently high standard to justify a place, the British Olympic Association has ruled.

Britain's leading ice skating pair, Lesley Rogers and Michael Aldred, have also been told they will not go to the Games, which start in Nagano, Japan on 7 February.

The shock waves following the decision have been reverberating around British ice skating. Celia Godsall, chief executive of the National Ice Skating Association, said all four skaters involved were "devastated" by the BOA's decision, and confirmed that Humphreys and Askew, who were 16th out of 29 in this year's World Championships, have split up as a result.

Both pairs passed the Olympic selection requirements of skating's international body, FISU, by finishing within the first four nations at a qualifying tournament in Vienna.

But in April, following sustained criticism of Britain's performance at the 1996 Olympics, the BOA announced that in future it would require all its Games competitors to show they could finish in the top half of their events' world rankings.

Neither pair has been able to do that since because of injury problems, but both had hoped to impress sufficiently in next month's European Championships.

"You spend your life dreaming of the Olympics, you pass the international qualification, and then what happens?" said Askew. "You are told you still can't go. I thought the Olympic motto said it was not the winning, but the taking part. The BOA don't appear to believe in that any more."

Aldred said the decision had been devastating for him. "I am 26 now, and that is my last chance of the Olympics gone," he said. "I am giving very serious thought to whether I continue in the sport.

"I believe we could have had the best all-round skating team Britain has ever produced at the Olympics, but it looks now as if there will be just one going in the men's singles and perhaps one in the women's singles. It will be a very lonely Games for them.

"I appreciate that the BOA is trying to raise the British game, but they are going about things in the wrong way. You can't exclude people from the very environment they need to improve.

"Our places will simply go to less well qualified skaters from other countries now.

"It is ironic that if we had come from Canada, the world's top skating nation, our performances in Vienna would have assured us of an Olympic place."

The exclusion of Humphreys and Askew may also mean the end of a distinguished career at the top for Callaway, who has said that this pairing would be the last she would advise.

Britain's team for the Games will comprise 35 members - significantly fewer than the party which set out for Lillehammer four years ago. But the BOA has stressed that its policy is not based on the need for economy. "We want our athletes to perform with credibility," said the BOA chief executive, Simon Clegg.

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