Ice Skating: Torvill and Dean achieve dramatic victory: British pair triumphant after Russians send the scores spinning while Witt veers off course in the European Championships

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The Independent Online
THE grand plan remains intact - but only just. Ten years after they won the Olympic ice dance title, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean will seek a second gold medal at next month's Games in Lillehammer as European champions.

But well as they skated their free programme, to the theme of the Rogers and Astaire number 'Let's Face The Music And Dance', their ultimate victory was more a triumph of proportional representation.

The British pair were seemingly resigned to the silver medal position behind Maya Usova and Alexandr Zhulin, the world champions, until the second Russian pairing of Oksana Gritschuk and Evgeny Platov sent the scores spinning like a railway station indicator by winning the free dance with an exuberant display which earned them three sixes for artistic impression.

Gritschuk and Platov moved up from third to second, with seven of the nine judges placing them first on the night. Torvill and Dean took the gold with six awards of second place or better as against the five which Usova and Zhulin gained. In fact, the Britons were proclaimed champions without one of the nine judges giving them first place in the free section; two had voted for Usova and Zhulin.

It was dramatic, undeniably. But the whole process served to underline ice dancing's uneasy sporting status.

Torvill and Dean had taken a risk in returning to the sport after 10 years as professionals, although the revision of the ice dancing rules in 1992 - acrobatics and histrionics out, poise and technique in - clearly suited a pair who, at 35 and 36, are senior citizens in their sport.

Their intention here had been to send a message to the judges at next month's Olympic Games that they were back, and as good if not better than they ever were. They certainly are good still. But the message is less clear than they would have wished it to be.

A bemused Zhulin summed it up: 'My coaches said we were first, then silver and then bronze. This is a very algebra competition.'

Afterwards, Torvill and Dean looked almost contrite as they sat flanked by their Russian rivals. 'We have all been up and down this week,' Dean said. 'We have all traded places. Any one of us would have been worthy winners.'

Where there is Katarina Witt, there is emotion. That is her special quality as a performer. And yesterday the emotion was painful to behold as the Olympic champion of 1984 and 1988 performed so lamentably that she is at risk of losing a chance even to challenge for a third title. That would be an enormous blow to the Olympics - the hush that preceded her technical programme testified to her enduring fascination for audiences.

But what followed - an uncertain and not overly ambitious effort marred most notably by one jarring double landing on one of the required elements, a double axel - served only to diminish the memory of an exuberant champion.

Unless Witt can regain her nerve in today's free programme she may yet end up as the third-placed German here - and only the top two will go to next month's Winter Olympics in Lillehammer.

'I am very disappointed in my programme today because there were jumps in it that I can normally do in my sleep,' she said. 'I can't explain why it happened. I was extremely nervous here. I felt it all week.

'The reason I came back was because I just wanted to find out how far I can go.' Her face indicated that she had just found out.

Was she, someone asked, still glad that she had come back? 'Yes,' she replied. 'I definitely don't regret it. And I am not going to start analysing tomorrow if I don't make it. Of course I am disappointed. But the experience I have had throughout the year has been interesting for me. I would have regretted it if I had not tried.'

Results, Sporting Digest, page 27