Ice Skating: Stutter by Torvill and Dean: British pair end first day in second place at European Championships

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The Independent Online
JUDGED by the absurdly high standards they themselves have set, yesterday represented a wobble for Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean. Returning to international competition for the first time in 10 years, Britain's feted pair ended their first day of competition at the European Figure Skating Championships in joint second place after the compulsory figures.

Not bad, considering that this section accounts for only 20 per cent of the overall marks. But this is a partnership which has not previously dealt in shades of success.

Whenever they have taken to the podium in international competitions, it has only been to take the gold. In becoming world champions four times, European champions three times and Olympic champions once, they have led after the first day on each occasion. Not since 1980 have they failed to approach the original dance and free skating sections with a lead.

It is not the start they were anticipating in what is an important stepping stone between the national championships, which they won with a full complement of perfect sixes for artistic merit, and next month's Winter Olympics in Lillehammer.

After the world champions, Maya Usova and Aleksander Zhulin of Russia, had won both sections of the compulsory exercises - a paso doble followed by a blues number - the British pair were left to reflect on what had tempered their habitual superiority in the eyes of the nine judges.

Perhaps the most crucial step they took was a step back from the showmanship for which they have become famous. 'We didn't want to risk being accused of being too showmanlike,' Torvill said. 'We didn't want to do anything risque.'

As it was, their skating was as smooth and assured as it seems always to have been. They were third in the paso doble and second in the blues to go into tomorrow's original dance - the rumba - level with the Russians, Oksana Gritschuk and Evgeny Platov.

'Chris and Jayne were the last in their group of six to skate and the other five all stayed behind to applaud,' their coach, Betty Callaway, said. 'Their interpretation of the blues was beautiful. But I think the judges' eye has changed in the compulsories in the last 10 years. They have developed a liking for things other than technique. A little more flamboyance, a little more theatre perhaps. Chris and Jayne are purists.'

Torvill was generally happy with the way things had gone in the intimate surroundings of the Brondbyhalle, where they won the 1982 European championships. 'I don't think we could have skated better,' she said. 'We were disappointed with the marks.' Neither of them could remember the last time they had received a mark as low as 5.2, the Swiss judge's mark for their paso doble.

It is too early to start lamenting, however, as Dean will know well enough. At the 1990 world championships, Paul and Isabelle Duchesnay lay third after the compulsories and went on to win the title. Their coach was Christopher Dean. .

(Photograph omitted)