Sport on TV: Tonya show laced with a final twist

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The Independent Online
OBVIOUSLY we were all gutted for Jayne 'n' Chris, inch- perfect until those rotten foreign judges docked points for a lift and a splits which weren't in the catalogue. Both those moves are more normally associated with the woman in the partnership, but they featured Chris here. Basically, our heroes were penalised for the first ever politically sound ice dance and I suspect a right- wing conspiracy.

Still, that's nothing compared with the underhand meddling which went on whenever Tonya Harding glided on to our screens (Olympic Grandstand, BBC 2). In what Americans are calling 'The Battle of Wounded Knee', Harding is alleged to have paid thugs to nobble her rival, fancy Nancy Kerrigan. The alarming thing about the way the affair has been merrily lathered up as soap all week, is how nobody seems to be suspending their judgement, pending anything tiresomely official like, say, a court case. On this evidence, you are innocent either until proven guilty, or until a sufficient wave of ignorant media interest has built you into a criminal stereotype (hard-faced and therefore bitterly calculating, etc).

Still, oddness dogged Harding right through to Friday's final stage. Amazing to report, but Eurosport (not so much the poor relation of sports television as the disadvantaged child that sports television used to bully at school) scooped the BBC hollow on this one. Sue Barker and Robin Cousins were still mid-preamble when, over on Eurosport, the unreal began to unfold in real time.

Harding had failed to show when called to the ice. 'Maybe her dress came undone,' speculated the man from Eurosport, salaciously. The camera was staring at the curtains and the regulation two minutes were ticking away on the rink-side clock. 'Get your skates on,' you thought to yourself. Which was exactly the problem.

There was Tonya, hoiking her foot up under the judges' noses, plucking at a dodgy lace, her face creased with crabby distress. Then came the breathless rush to fix her up. 'Don't push when I'm pulling,' a trainer snapped. 'Do you want me to do it?' said Tonya. 'I can do it.' Suddenly, the question was not so much whether she had put the boot in as whether she could put the boot on.

The BBC only caught up with these images 30 minutes later. But the channel recovered points for technical merit by offering us a 'Grandstand Jump Guide', an invaluable critical tool which would have been even more useful had more than 13 per cent of it been comprehensible. Briefly, all jumps land backwards, even the ones which take off forwards; a triple is three and a half revolutions; and what goes up must come down. 'It may help to watch the head,' said Barry Davies. It didn't.

At least Cousins - informative all week - managed to explain the expression 'to pop the jump' - where the skater looks set to go into a triple salchow with an additional toe-loop, two axels and a side-order of onion rings, but chickens out in mid-air and settles for a wave and a tidy landing. Kerrigan popped one early on and thus took silver, but didn't seem upset. 'Real proud of myself,' she said, which meant we didn't have to be. And Katarina Witt popped nearly all of hers, but as far as our commentators were concerned, she was the love interest, so that was all right: 'Bewdiful,' said Alan Weeks in his best Simon Bates voice. 'So emotive, so expressive,' said Barry Davies, in his best Barry Davies voice.

Oksana Baiul managed gold despite three stitches in her shin after a collision in training. The bronze medallist, Surya Bonaly, also narrowly missed a permanent grooving when she glided into an oncoming skater during Friday's warm-up. All the talk this week has been about shaking up the judging scheme, but in truth the development of an effective Ice Traffic Control system seems far more urgent.

Baiul didn't get her medal for a while because the Winter Olympics people couldn't find their recording of the Ukrainian national anthem. It's easy to scoff: but can you find yours? And let's face it, it's not the kind of number for which you could hoist in an emergency busker on a 'you hum it, I'll play it' basis.

I said here last week that an inability to spot the puck was mildly impeding my enjoyment of the ice hockey. Things improved drastically with concentration, though, to the extent that, during Friday's semi-finals alone, I spotted it twice - once in a small clearing near the centre of the rink and then again, chipping a lump off the Finnish goalie's helmet. Up in the commentary box, Stuart Storey improvised madly: 'That was off his head] He headed it away]'

But what the absence of the puck throws into relief is the fact that the really artful skating goes on, not in the figure event, but here - in ice hockey's turns, its pace, the timing involved in cruelly slamming your opponent into the Plexiglass surround. Chris could lift and split as frequently as he wanted here and earn applause, rather than lose points. Bewdiful.