Winter Olympics 2014: Penny Coomes and Nick Buckland - can the new Torvill and Dean strike gold with ‘The Beast’?

 

Sochi

It is the event in which Britain has a winter tradition like no other, one in which those who seek admittance will always be judged on their ability to achieve the impossible.

It falls to Penny Coomes and Nick Buckland, a couple on and off the ice, to try to follow in the immaculate tracks of Torvill and Dean 30 years on from what remains a seminal moment in British sporting history.

On Thursday, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean will be back in Sarajevo, invited by the city’s mayor to perform the “Bolero” one more time in the Zetra Ice Hall, now rebuilt after being destroyed by Serb forces in the Bosnian war. Three days later, Coomes and Buckland – who compete today in the team competition, a box-ticking event in which Britain have no chance – begin their ice dance programme aiming some way short of perfection.

Of the nine Winter Olympic golds won by Britain, four have gone to figure skaters (there was a fifth from the 1908 Games when it was part of the summer programme). One of them, Robin Cousins, is here as a team ambassador, a daily reminder of the standards that the current generation have to aspire to.

But it always comes back to Torvill and Dean, and Coomes and Buckland do have one trick up their billowing sleeves. They can call on the man who beat Britain’s greats to gold on their return in Lillehammer in 1994; two beauties are being nurtured by the beast.

Nicholas Buckland and Penny Coomes (left) and Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean after winning gold in 1984 Nicholas Buckland and Penny Coomes (left) and Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean after winning gold in 1984 (PA; Getty Images) “They are my favourite students,” says Evgeny Platov, a unique Russian mix of menace and charm, who has two gold medals to his name. He has coached the Britons for the last four years. “We have a connection, a bond. I can be very strict. I told them you don’t have to like me, you don’t have to love me on the ice – on the ice I will be the beast. Off the ice I can be your buddy, brother, mother, father, whatever you want me to be.

“For me as a two-time Olympic champion I realised I had to trust my coach and do 100 per cent what he said – that was the Russian system and it worked pretty well,” Platov added. “I told them, if you want to be with me you trust me 100 per cent – you do my way or highway.”

It was after competing in Vancouver four years ago, when they finished 20th, that Coomes and Buckland took up Platov’s invitation to move to New Jersey and work full-time under his guidance. Platov is a bullish advocate of the Soviet system that made him, one that has at its core sheer hard work, hour after hour on the ice from the age of nine onwards.

“He has been a huge influence, he has introduced Russian skating style and so many different aspects have opened up by being with him,” says Buckland. “Different types of training, training super hard, lots of ice time. We have learnt so much from him.”

He has introduced another less obvious factor to the pair’s preparation. Before every competition he sits Coomes down and they watch Miracle, Disney’s story of the US ice hockey team’s victory over the Soviets in 1980.

“Did you see Miracle – about the US hockey team that beat my team, Soviet Union?” wonders Platov. “I was 13 years old, I was crying. How did they beat us? We were the best team in the world. Now we watch this movie – it is Penny’s movie, before competition she watches that. I told her, watch this movie.”

Coomes does as Platov orders. “It is so inspiring,” says Coomes, the shortest athlete in Team GB at 5ft and a whole foot smaller than her partner. “I love hard work, they do that in the film and they defy the rules and win the Olympic gold. That relates with me.

“I am not naturally the best skater in the world, not naturally talented, I have to get there through very hard work and because he has pushed me I have improved so much in the last few years. That film really resonates with me.”

Under Platov the 24-year-olds – Coomes is the elder by two months – have made promising progress. They are considered the best dance pair since Torvill and Dean but, despite winning bronze in the European Championships last month, the Olympic medal target is four years down the line in Pyeongchang. The aim here is a top-eight finish; a step in the right direction.

“Nobody can touch Torvill and Dean,” says Platov heatedly. He calls them his “idols”. “They are untouchable – even with my two Olympic medals, even though I beat them. They did a revolution in ice dancing.”

Nobody can touch them, but his current charges can, he believes – and this is not a man to quibble with – make an Olympic mark of their own further down the line.

“To reach that level, that’s our absolute goal,” says Platov. “They have so much potential.”

Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'