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Sport on TV: Perfect day when Brits took the Russians to the cleaners


Thirty years ago, half the country witnessed one of the greatest sporting achievements by British athletes as 24 million people turned on their tellies to watch Torvill and Dean skate to gold in Sarajevo. Dean admits thinking about it still takes his breath away, and watching the replay of their ‘Bolero’ dance on Torvill and Dean: The Perfect Day (BBC2, Friday), it still sent a shiver down the spine that had nothing to do with the ice.

As the row of immaculate 6.0 scores went up, Len Goodman says he jumped off the sofa, leapt up and down and broke his thumb against the wall. The Strictly judge’s manoeuvre has since been incorporated into many a dance routine.

The pair are still going strong, with the last of their nine series of Dancing on Ice on ITV acting as a powerful competitor to the Strictly phenomenon. The public still warms to them in spite of what some might call their over-exposure, and this Thursday they return to Sarajevo to perform their dance again at the request of the mayor.

Torvill remembers those fleeting four minutes and 24 seconds of perfection as an out-of-body experience, which is doubly impressive when you think how in control of her limbs she had to be. “I felt like I was looking down on us,” she said, while Dean concurred: “It felt like we were in an altered state of consciousness.” Luckily, he still managed to pass the drug test afterwards.

T&D knew they would clean up and sweep the board. Several days before the final, they practised for the first time on the full-sized rink and received a standing ovation from the cleaners.

Although no one could have anticipated quite how brilliant they would be, the nation was certainly expectant as they settled down and tuned in at 9.52pm on 14 February 1984. One very unfortunate family were at home in their quiet village in Cambridgeshire when Jeffrey Archer knocked on their door and asked if he could come in and watch the sequence. It shows just how much the skaters had transfixed the entire country that the family welcomed the politician in rather than hurling abuse at him and slamming the door in his face.

So the pair even managed to melt the heart of the arch Tory. In that Orwellian year, at the height of Thatcherism and within a month of the start of the Miners’ Strike, Torvill and Dean had given everyone five brief minutes of respite in which to dream of a better world.

The British dance coach in Sarajevo, Bobby Thompson, said they were sweethearts, though they weren’t, and Dean did nothing to dispel the notion by saying “Not yet” when asked if the pair would be getting married after the Games. It’s probably just as well that never happened or Britain might have lost its stiff upper lip for ever and dissolved into a big, blubbering puddle.

Anyone who can remember that dance will probably not have understood half of what the TV commentators have been saying about the slopestyle snowboarding that started the Games yesterday.

The lingo of these bright young things who fly through the air has made its way into the commentary box. “That’s 30 metres of rad,” one pundit opined yesterday, which was met with the comment: “Well I’ve never heard that before.”

After Hazel Irvine cut short her interview with Billy Morgan when he used the phrase “huck it” (which means “going for it” in the parlance) and issued an immiediate apology for the use of a swearword, it was obvious that we are in for a confusing couple of weeks. If you’re “sick” and “phat”, you’re actually doing really well. Just so you know. And if something is “gay”, it’s really bad. At least President Putin will understand that.