Profile: Second ice age cometh: Torvill and Dean

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The Independent Online
IF YOU fancy going for a spot of ice skating at the Bladerunner rink in Milton Keynes during the next few weeks, you may well find it closed to the public. Away from the eyes of outsiders - not least, potential rivals - the greatest ice dance partnership ever is preparing to make a come-back.

It is almost 10 years since Torvill and Dean reached their apotheosis when they scored an unprecedented nine perfect sixes for artistic impression on their way to the ice dance gold medal in the 1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo. The world feels a very different place now - not least in the city of their greatest triumph, where at the time the Yugoslavian war was still six years away. Mrs Thatcher was nine months into her second term of office, and the Soviet Union was under the day-old leadership of Kon

stantin Chernenko after the death of Yuri Andropov. The No 1 record in Britain was 'Relax' by Frankie Goes To Hollywood, although by a coincidence that Torvill and Dean may take as a promising omen, it is back in the charts this week.

Reviving a pop song is one thing; reviving a great sporting double act is quite another. Not that T & D - up there with M & S in terms of recognition by their initials only, and appealing to rather the same sort of market - have ever really hung up their skates and their sequined suits. After Sarajevo they turned professional, taking part in ice shows around the globe in which any pretence that what they were doing could be even loosely described as sport was lost. Whether it was 'The Russian All-Stars with Torvill and Dean' (in Moscow) or 'Torvill and Dean with the Russian All-Stars' (in London) this was pure showbiz, a world in which what really matters is whose name is given the top billing.

Now, though, we must prepare ourselves for another round of the great 'Yes, but is it sport?' debate - which when T & D were at their height was probably the second-most asked question after 'Yes, but do they, er, well, you know . . .?' T & D have won back their amateur status, allowing them to return to competition. That means, among other things, the Winter Olympic Games in Lille

hammer in Norway in four months' time and the chance to emulate their greatest achievement a decade on. Millionaires at the Olympics? The precedent has long since been set with the likes of Steffi Graf and the American basketball team, so T & D's case for taking part is unanswerable. All they need do to get there is win the domestic championships in January - a formality given the parlous state of British ice dance.

But will Torvill, now 36, and Dean, 35, still be able to cut it at the highest level? Natalya Bestemyonova thinks so, and she should know. With Andrei Bukin she was one half of the leading Soviet ice dance partnership during T & D's heyday, usually finishing second to them. 'I think their problem will be more of a mental one than a physical one,' she says. 'But I'm sure they can do it. They have such strong characters. I'd be surprised if I heard of another couple coming back after so long, but not Torvill and Dean. If anyone can come back, then they can.'

Haig Oundjian, the chief executive of the National Ice Skating Association (NISA), agrees. 'What you have to remember is that just because they have been on the professional circuit doesn't mean they have lost their edge or determination,' he says. 'They did a show in America recently where most routines were four minutes or so, but they chose to do something much more demanding, lasting nine minutes. They've kept themselves incredibly fit. They are always breaking the barriers, looking for new ways to extend the boundaries of the sport.'

There is another reason for Oundjian's delight at the prospect of a T & D comeback. It immediately raises the profile of the sport, and with that comes much-needed income from television and sponsors. NISA have just negotiated a deal with the BBC for broadcasting ice skating in Britain over the next two years, entirely on the back of T & D. 'Ice rinks mushroomed in the mid-Eighties, but we never really developed at the top,' Oundjian says. 'We are very lucky to have a second bite at the cherry.' There is no doubt about that - 16 million Britons tuned in that St Valentine's evening to watch them skate their way into legend and do for Ravel's Bolero what the World Cup was later to do for 'Nessun Dorma'.

After such a long absence, there is a new generation waiting to be sold essence of T & D and learn afresh the story of their rise from unglamorous origins in Nottingham - Christopher the policeman, Jayne in insurance - to become the fairytale heroes of a proud nation with an appeal that extended way beyond the confines of a sporting audience.

What attracted people about T & D was in a way very simple: here was a couple, palpably boy-and-girl- next-door, who with their magical 'chemistry' produced something profound and beautiful. Poetry in motion, if prose standing still. For some, though, there was an inescapable banality about it all. Their wives were usually quite happy for them to go off down the pub if it meant watching T & D in peace and being allowed to call their daughters Jane with a y.

As for the real Torvill and Dean, it is hard to get beyond the gushings of a world which seems to have more in common with the green room than the locker room. But there is niceness as well as luvviness. Miss Bestemyonova remembers how kind T & D were to her and Bukin when they were in Australia once, feeling somewhat lost but being invited to dinner and sent flowers by the British pair.

A certain amount of reality has infiltrated T & D's lives since the heady days of '84, although it is Christopher, always the fiery and complicated one, who has suffered more in this respect than sensible Jayne. Dean did in the end marry his beautiful ice queen, but it wasn't Torvill but the French-Canadian Isabelle Duchesnay, who with her brother Paul had carried the torch for mould-breaking ice-dance after the departure from the scene of T & D. But earlier this year their two-year-old marriage broke up, with Miss Duchesnay saying that Dean was having an affair and that when he wasn't he was spending too much time skating. Dean denies this. Torvill's marriage to a sound engineer, Phil Christensen, has been less turbulent.

Whatever their marriages may or may not have brought them, Torvill and Dean feel an intensity of communion on ice which is hard for them to resist. 'Never come back' is one of sport's oldest adages. But behind their closed doors in Milton Keynes, under the tutelage of their old coach Betty Calloway and the curious gaze of the odd cleaner leaning on a broom, something may emerge to rival Bolero and allow them to join the exclusive ranks of those who have disproved it.