Winter Olympics / Ice Skating: Judges like new taste of fluid T & D: British ice dancers share first place

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The Independent Online
CHRISTOPHER DEAN approached the kiss and cry corner after completing last night's original dance with the expression of a man going to the stake. When the scores came up, he looked momentarily as if he might cry with relief.

All but one of the judges placed him and his partner, Jayne Torvill, ahead of their two main Russian rivals, Alexander Zhulin and Maya Usova, who now lie second overall on countback, and Oksana Gritschuk and Yevgeny Platov.

Two perfect sixes for presentation were the gilt on an evening which saw the British pair move up from third to first place going into tonight's crucial free dance, where the remaining 50 per cent of the marks will be decided.

The endorsement by the same judges who had plunged the British pair into gloom by placing them third in the compulsories was not quite enough to make Dean go back on his statement of the previous day, in which he implied that their return from the professional ranks had not been worth all the heartache. 'Wait until tomorrow,' he said.

But there was no attempt to disguise the satisfaction the events of the night had evoked. The innate competitiveness that made Torvill and Dean unbeatable in the years leading up to their Olympic victory of 10 years ago is intact.

'We are still here and still doing it,' Dean said. 'People were expecting us to win in Sarajevo, but what we have done now is throw it all open. It is a real competition. We have had a lot of anxiousness and anguish. Perhaps when you get older you can't take so much of it. When you are younger you thrive on it.'

The situation mirrors that which preceded their confusing European Championship win last month, where they moved from joint second in the compulsories, which count for 20 per cent of the programme and won the original, worth 30 per cent, also with two sixes.

Whether they can repeat that success will depend upon how the judges view a routine that has been almost totally changed within a fortnight following its less than wholehearted reception in Copenhagen.

The British pair entered the original dance lying third behind the Russian joint leaders, knowing they had to win to have any chance of regaining the Olympic title.

The pressures of which they have complained - resistance to returning professionals, uncertainty over whether they have correctly judged the judges' criteria, the nagging sense that they might actually be too old for this game after all - cease to bear down as inexorably when they are actually on the ice.

It is, they say, their place. Where they feel comfortable. They looked it again last night, clad in black and sparkly green, as they completed the dance with which they have always appeared most comfortable.

'When you are out on the ice there has to be a feeling between you,' Dean said. 'A passion, I guess. But it's not the passion of a romance. It is the passion of wanting to bring the best out of each other. A feeling.'

Not that Torvill and Dean were the only ones to bring passion to the ice. Usova and Zhulin - she with her gaunt looks, he with his shock of fair hair - looked like Ophelia and Hamlet as they moved in smooth unison. In contrast, Gritschuk and Platov were like something out of Grease - him all moody forelock, her all youthful exuberance - and their routine was wilder and more adventurous. That exuberance might yet take them to a victory in the free programme such as they brought off in the European Championships.

But the judges' acknowledgement of Torvill and Dean's technical accomplishment has brought the prize which Dean had described the day before as getting harder to attain by the day back within reaching distance. 'We came here to win a medal,' he said. 'And if you have a preference of colour . . . well, why not gold?'

The figure skater, Tonya Harding, produced her best form in practice yesterday, contradicting reports that she might quit the Games through injury.

Results, page 35

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