Ice Skating: Torvill and Dean walking a tightrope

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The Independent Online
ONE thing did not happen to Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean during their switchback of a week at the European championships. As Dean pointed out with a certain acid smile, no one accused them of cheating.

At the end of their first international competition since they won the 1984 Olympics - where they were criticised for innovating beyond the scope of the rules - they can go on to next month's Winter Games as ice dance champions.

That their achievement owed as much to the vicissitudes of the scoring system as their own undoubtedly sterling efforts was not something they were in a position to do anything about. They don't make up the rules.

But trying to anticipate and satisy the requirements of those who do is proving to be a task more exacting than either of them had envisaged.

Having been bound obediently by the new guidelines which the International Skating Union issued in 1992 - stressing technique over acrobatics - they found themselves driving to full capacity a vehicle that was simply outperformed by the exuberant young Russians who won the free dance section, Oksana Gritschuk and Evgeny Platov.

There is no chance of a trade-in for the British pair. The Lillehammer Games are nearly upon them. But the question which presented itself in the aftermath of victory proved irresistible: had they known how the judging would go, would they have altered their programme?

They responded in unison, but for once they were at cross-purposes. 'Perhaps,' said Torvill. 'Yes,' said Dean.

The problem is not change itself - they have been adapting and altering routines for 10 years in professional shows - but deciding what change is appropriate. Whatever they do decide, there is little margin for error, as their two Russian rivals could hardly be closer to them. No wonder they regarded their experience in the small-scale, suburban Brondby Hallen as the most difficult of their entire competitive career.

After the opening compulsory dance section in Copenhagen, Dean forecast that the overall winner would set the dominant style in ice dance for the next four years.

As he and his partner faced a virtual inquisition after winning the gold, he amended his earlier statement. 'The Olympics and world championships are still to come,' he said. 'I think we will have to wait until the end of the season before we know.'

Katarina Witt already knows that she will not be setting any trends this year. Despite succeeding in her basic ambition of qualifying for the Olympics after a six-year absence on the professional circuit, her performance in finishing eighth overall held out no promise of anything for her in Lillehammer other than the acclamation which her sheer presence will inevitably provoke.

'The most important thing for me was that the audience were totally on my side,' she said. 'They totally understood what I wanted to say with my skating.'

Meanwhile, the most important thing for the European champion, Surya Bonaly, of France, could be the degree to which the Olympic judges are likely to give a sympathy vote to Nancy Kerrigan, the American skater who is due to compete despite having her knee injured in the recent hammer attack which is being legally investigated.