Uce Skating: T and D's six appeal sends out a message: The British champions' triumphant return will have been noted around the world. Mark Burton reports

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ANYTHING you can do we can do better, we can do anything better than you. Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean have sent out that message to their international ice dance rivals through the medium of Irving Berlin's music.

The 7,000-plus spectators at the Sheffield Arena on Saturday, who witnessed the climax of the couple's first competitive sporting outing for a decade at the British Ice Dance Championships, seemed almost perplexed by the complexity of a free programme lacking the melodrama they probably expected.

But the four-minute performance to 'Let's Face the Music and Dance' met with mounting approval and once the judges had awarded it first eight 5.9s and a perfect 6 for technical merit and then a full set of 6s for artistic impression, the rousing applause and roar of approval suggested relief and reassurance in the audience. They had indeed been in the presence of brilliance.

Torvill and Dean, too, were relieved. The practice had lived up to the theory and there on the scoreboard was proof that their hard work for four hours a day, six days a week since July and their sacrifice of money-spinning show appearances had not been in vain.

'It was the first showing, the first time we had really been out there having to do the business, you might say,' Dean explained after receiving the championship winner's medal. 'And it was sending out the signals abroad, as well, so it was important to skate well today.'

The 'signal' their performance sent out to their rivals, like last year's world leaders, Maia Ufova and Alexander Zhulin, is that a decade might have passed and they might be in their mid-30s but Torvill and Dean have lost nothing. International judges were meant to take note, too.

Not only art and sport but also politics. Is there anything that ice dance lacks? The International Skating Union would like to think there is. It no longer wants ice dancing to be the one business that is like showbusiness. Torvill and Dean might have flung out the flamboyance and dropped the drama of the Bolero that brought them the Olympic title 10 years ago in Sarajevo and instead simply skated. But by no means do they skate simply.

Torvill and Dean slipped through a series of seamless switches between rhythms and patterns ranging from the quickstep to the tango, dropping in references to their Mack and Mabel and Barnum of 1982 and 1983, respectively. Like all masters, they made it look easy.

Torvill said they 'can always find work to do' on routines. Their rumba for the original dance section is a sensation fit to melt the ice, but in the compulsory dances there is always room for improvement. Perfection is elusive but even there they exceed the capabilities of their Russian rivals.

When Dean puts on his white tie and matching tuxedo to lead Torvill on to the ice for the finale at the European Championships in 12 days' time in Copenhagen, the judges should still be singing their praises in a song of six points.

(Photograph omitted)