Winter Olympics / Ice Skating: Britons face the music: Kerrigan and Harding refuse to acknowledge each other

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ON A day dominated by the media's performance in the free- for-all programme - cameramen hung off the rafters to capture the full drama of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan's simultaneous practice session - the impact of Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean was muted.

But their own showing in practice, the last before they get down to real business here today with the first compulsory section of the Olympic ice dance, was not reassuring.

The couple who have always appeared to be perfection on ice were conspicuously less than perfect, stumbling twice as they ran through a free programme which has been transformed in the space of two weeks since last month's narrow victory in the European Championships.

In the aftermath of that bewildering triumph, when the oddities of the scoring system brought them the gold even though none of the judges ranked their technically accomplished free routine as the best, someone asked Dean only half-jokingly whether he and his partner were going to ditch ballroom for rock 'n' roll.

'Maybe 'Bolero' will come back,' Dean responded, again only half-jokingly. For in a sense, now it has. While their free programme retains the same title - 'Let's Face the Music and Dance' - it is a vehicle with a different engine.

The material, according to Dean, is 80 per cent new, with an emphasis on the flamboyance which wowed both crowd and judges when their 'Bolero' routine saw them to the Olympic title in Sarajevo 10 years ago.

The changes have been effected in daily, four-hour sessions of practice at Milton Keynes, and even the couple's coach, Betty Callaway, acknowledges that the effort has tired them. Dean also missed two full days' practice last week with food poisoning.

At the Amphitheatre yesterday, there were rumblings from the Russians - who have the two main rivals to the British pair in Alexandr Zhulin and Maya Usova and Oksana Gritschuk and Yevgeny Platov - that any programme assembled in such a short time must needs appear as if it has been thrown together.

'They may be exhausted, but they are very happy with what they have done,' Callaway said. Will the judges - who now number an English representative, Mary Parry - be equally happy? Not easy to tell.

At the European Championships, Torvill and Dean's first international competition after a lucrative 10-year interlude as professionals, they were desperately anxious not to appear as showbiz swanks. They observed obediently the revised guidelines for ice dance introduced by the International Skating Union in 1992 which ruled out the extravagances which they themselves had pioneered and which had been copied to the point of naffness by subsequent straining youngsters.

But now, having seen the exuberance of Gritschuk and Platov win the free programme in Copenhagen, they have hastily revised their approach.

'They were so worried beforehand about being seen as too showbiz after 10 years as pros that they ended up being too conservative,' Bobby Thompson, their dance adviser, said. 'Now it is much more theatrical. They came to the realisation that something had to be done and of all people they were the ones most capable of doing it.'

To whatever extent one believes their return to competition is motivated by a desire to stimulate interest and revenue for the lavish professional tour they plan later this year, you have to say that Torvill and Dean have made themselves vulnerable in coming back.

In Copenhagen, even after they had won, there was a sense of bewilderment about them. They had prepared - professionally - for a competition only to find the ground rules shifting under their busy feet. The danger now is that they will have become too eager to please - they have even added flamboyance to their compulsory programme - and end up, embarrassingly, with a hastily prepared jamboree bag for the judges and public to dip into.

Golden Wasmeier,

Results, page 39

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