THE MONDAY INTERVIEW: The day our dream died

The public loved them, but Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean knew they would not win Olympic gold again. Interview by Ian Stafford
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It went largely unnoticed, except for the 5,000 crowd present, but on Thursday night last week, amid the fanfares and the adulation, normal service was resumed for what was once the biggest double act in British sport.

With a little imagination it coud have been Sarajevo, back in the good old days of 1984 when the city played host to the Winter Olympics and a series of performances from Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean left the ice-dance judges summing up their feelings by awarding perfection.

More than 11 years later they were at it again, sweeping up last week's Nutrasweet Challenge of Champions professional title and a first prize of pounds 25,000 with a stunning display of symmetry which earned them 11 out of a possible 14 maximum marks of 10. Ah yes, this is how we remember Torvill and Dean.

But this was not the Olympics. This was the London Arena in Docklands, on a grey and murky East London day. The professional circus had come to town to present its talents to a disappointingly small audience, to people who remembered what the performers, and none more than Torvill and Dean, had produced at the Olympic Games.

As far as Dean is concerned, still boyish-looking despite his 37 years, this is familiar ground, after the partnership's torrid flirtation with the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer. "It's been so good being back again in the professional environment," he explained. "It's like coming home again."

For the past 20 months T &D have kept their heads down, throwing themselves into a long and punishing professional tour and featuring in one-off events such as the Challenge of Champions. The pressure has been off, but the memory of their attempt to re-capture their glory of the 1980s remains. They have not talked about it much, preferring to look ahead to their next show, but I reminded them of a day we spent together a week or so after they had announced that they would be attempting to win the 1994 British, European, Olympic and World gold medals.

Back then, they were like wild-eyed youngsters, with the uncertain but excited expression of two hikers about to embark on a wonderful adventure into the unknown. "It's on again," Torvill, now 38, had said breathlessly. "We wouldn't be doing this if we didn't believe that we can win the Olympic gold medal."

Dean had been equally enthusiastic and optimistic. "We want to test ourselves one more time, a final swan-song if you like. You know what they say - no guts, no glory."

They duly captured the British ice-dance title and scraped to victory in the Europeans, but could "only" win an Olympic bronze (having been in pole position with just their famous free-dance routine left), and then withdrew from the world championships.

The expressions and the mood today are in stark contrast to 20 months ago. "We were made to feel like outsiders in an environment that had suddenly become alien to us," Dean said. Torvill, still right beside him after all these years, agreed.

"It was very restrictive for us," she said. "We had enjoyed complete freedom, both choreographically and artistically, in the professional world, and then, suddenly, we found ourselved confined. People from the International Skating Union [the world body of ice skating] were telling us one thing and then others, from the same body, would totally contradict this. In hindsight, we should have just gone with our own thing and not taken any notice of the advice."

As if given a cue, Dean takes over. "The sport was, on the one hand, encouraging the professionals to return to the Olympics and the other major competitions, because they needed the publicity and exposure," he said. "But on the other hand it was clear they didn't really like us being back, and they certainly didn't want to see us win anything."

T & D were drawing their own conclusions even during their bold bid to sweep up the medals again, a decade after their interpretation of Ravel's "Bolero" had left even the most cynical viewer spellbound.

"The months leading up to the British Championships were very enjoyable," Dean said. "The anticipation and the attention reminded us of all the exciting elements of our amateur career. But once we started actually competing we soon discovered that life was not going to be nearly as much fun as we had expected.

"Every country and every judge seemed to have their own agenda. They probably always have had their own agendas, but the difference 10 years ago was that we came up with them and didn't feel like outsiders.

"The prevailing feeling was: 'Oh no, it's the professionals trying to grab the limelight. You've had your day, this is our patch.' Nobody ever actually said this, at least not to our faces, but the feeling was very clear to us."

Unknown to all of us, our redoubtable duo therefore knew how the story was going to end, even while the public and the media looked forward to golden success. Despite the row of perfect marks at the British Championships in Sheffield, the seeds of doubt had already been sown.

"That's when the alarm bells first rang,'' Dean said. "On the outside everything seemed perfect. We had returned with a win, and with exceptional marks, but we sensed that our plans were about to go in the wrong direction."

Over to Torvill: "Some of the international judges came along to see us in action and afterwards they gave their opinions to us. All they did was confuse us about which direction we should go to meet their requirements. We were left wondering whether they relaly knew themselves."

If the alarm bells were ringing then, they were positively chiming after the European Championships in Copenhagen in January 1994, when T & D claimed the gold medal by the narrowest of margins, and only after the most underwhelming reception.

"We hardly considered it as a victory at all," Torvill said. "I suppose it will always say in the record books that the 1994 European champions were Torvill and Dean, but we don't see it as an achievement. Sure we won the gold, but it was by default."

Dean, looking rather doleful, then made a staggering admission. "We knew from that moment that we stood no chance of winning the Olympics. We had thrown ourselves into something we knew would end in eventual failure."

Which begs the obvious question: why did they continue? "We could have stopped, but we'd invested a lot of time and effort into the whole process. We wouldn't have wanted to walk away from it for our own sakes, but also everyone else would have perceived such an action as an admission of being afraid."

So it became like a runaway train?

"Yes, that's one way of putting it," Torvill said. "After the Europeans we tried to change pretty much our whole free-dance routine to try and do the right thing, but then we realised that the die was already cast. After that, we felt like we were hurtling down a dark tunnel."

Except for a small handful of people close to the couple, Torvill and Dean kept their feelings to themselves. The rest of us, oblivious to all the mayhem, sat back expectantly and waited to hail our new Olympic gold medallists.

As it turned out, the title of their famous free-dance routine in 1994, "Let's Face the Music and Dance" proved perfectly apt. Leading the competition, having stormed back from third place to first with a rumba in the original dance, the perfect script seemed about to be completed.

In front of a British television audience of 12.4 million, T & D produced quite possibly the performance of their lives. It was considered good enough to win the title by the audience, but not by the judges, who reduced them to third place, behind the eventual winners, Russia's Oksana Gritschuk and Yevgeney Platov. If we were shocked and stunned by this apparent injustice, the two skaters were not.

Torvill described their feelings as they appeared on the ice, as competition leaders, to perform their final act. "We both felt so nervous. We felt that everything was against us, but the spotlight was firmly on us. But then we realised that this was what we did for a living and had been for the past 10 years. Suddenly the professional life took over and we performed for the audience. That's what got us through.

"We should have been excited, because we were in the lead and seemingly on the verge of winning gold. But as we stepped out on to the ice, we already knew we were going to lose."

Let's get this straight. You actually knew, seconds before the music began, that your performance was going to lose you the Olympic title?

"Yep. Leading the competition meant absolutely nothing to us, because we knew what the outcome would be. But we felt that if we were going to lose, then we'd lose in the best possible way."

As they waited for what they knew would be the marks, they half kidded themselves that, somehow, the fairy-tale could have a happy ending. "Just after we finished, as we listened to the reaction from the crowd, we thought we could have won," Dean said. "But the marks were no surprise to us. We didn't speak to each other afterwards, because there wasn't much to say."

Within days they withdrew from the World Championships and started rehearsing for a new professional tour. "We'd taken enough beatings, and we couldn't stand it any more," Torvill said.

Their aura of invincibility had therefore been shattered, and within a few weeks their much-written-about "love affair on ice" was also dented by a television documentary which gleefully showed Dean reducing his partner to tears during practice.

"At least it stopped people asking us if we have been in love for the past 10 years," Torvill said. "It was a bit mean of the director to do this. We had this nice image, and he clearly wanted to ruin it by making out we were at each other's throats every day."

The "nasty and ruthless" Dean cuts in. "Most of the aggressiveness shown in the film took place in between the Europeans and the Olympics, when the pressure was on, and our moods, because we had seen the writing on the wall, were not good. The truth is that we've been doing this for 20 years, and there's no way either Jayne or I could have stood it for so long if I'd always carried on like that. People still approach me and say that I was mean to Jayne, but it's normally tongue in cheek. At least it showed the reality of what we do to the public."

Ironically, their Olympic "failure" launched a successful professional tour. "At first we felt embarrassed and didn't want to be seen in public," Dean said. "We were concerned about what the defeat would do to our image. But most people made it clear to ourselves that they felt we were cheated.

"Children would come to our subsequent shows and present us with home- made gold medals, and people came to see us peform 'Let's Face the Music and Dance'. In a sense, the Olympics re-invented ourselves to a new generation and audience. We'd never known failure before, and we both feel great pride in the fact that, in our eyes, we've been able to bounce back on the professional circuit.''

So was it all worth it, then? "At the time, we thought we had made a huge mistake," Dean said. "But now we see that it was a great character- building exercise, and at least there will never be any 'what-ifs' in our skating career.''

They reckon they have a couple of years left in them. Time, then, for a further bash at the Olympics, in 1998?

"No way,'' they say in unison, before Torvill adds: "We've had our fill of the Olympics.''


Chris thinks it up, and Jayne makes it happen. Coach Betty Callaway

The chemistry was right from day one. I couldn't begin to define what it is that works so perfectly for them - but although they have separate lives now, it's still there. When they went out to dance this afternoon, as they stood there before they started, at that point they were in love. I was standing six feet away from them. I could see it. They're two people as one in my opinion. Bobby Thompson, T and D's dance advisor and joint coach

Jayne hated me. I think perhaps she was in love with Chris before and never accepted me. The only time she ever smiled at me was when I announced I was divorcing him. Isabelle Duchesnay, whose marriage to Dean lasted less than three years

Chubby-cheeked and bloated, wearing far too much make-up and in an ill- fitting costume, she (Torvill) looks like a London housewife attending the wedding of one of her children. Jean Christophe Papillon (Le Figaro)

I fully endorse their decision to call it a day. Their treatment at the Olympics was abysmal. Roy Mason, British ice dance chairman

A lot of us couldn't understand why they made the decision to come back. I think Christopher is the best British skater ever, in terms of innovation and choreography. He and Jayne set the standards on and off the ice. They reached the top. After that, there's only one way, isn't there? Stephen Williams, ice dancer and Dean's room-mate during trips to championships with the British team in the early 1980s