Winter Olympics / Ice Skating: The partners who turned motion and emotion into art: Despite defeat last night, Torvill and Dean are still among their sport's leading exponents. Christopher Hilton explains how they captured hearts and won

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JAYNE TORVILL and Christopher Dean may not have won gold, but the reaction of the crowd to their display in Lillehammer last night demonstrated how they have won the admiration of spectators the world over.

Nor can their failure to win again ice dancing's ultimate prize diminish the contribution they have made over the years to their sport. After announcing their return to the Olympics they had set their sights on gold, yet they can take pride in winning the bronze in what was an enthralling competition.

Like great art and architecture, you are not required to know much about it to recognise that it is great. The complexities behind the art of Torvill and Dean resolve themselves into unified simplicity available to any who care to look.

That begs a very pertinent question. How, as they showed in Lillehammer last night, can a former policeman and a former insurance clerk create this on ice? What is it? How did they get it, nurture it, then make it blossom into great art? How did they unify the complexities of so much movement?

The obvious answers - technical excellence, enormous practice, desire - do not cover the questions because a dozen other ice dance couples have that.

To understand, you must travel back to a lonely early morning at Nottingham in 1975 when Torvill and Dean stepped on to the ice together for the first time.

Dean had been skating with a girl called Sandra Elson, but they both had tempers and the partnership imploded. Dean's coach, Janet Sawbridge, cast round for a new partner and realised she might have one in Torvill, who she taught as a solo skater.

The early clues are important. That morning at Nottingham they looked tentative, almost afraid to hold each other, but they looked right, his 5ft 10in balanced nicely against her 5ft in. The commanding man, Sawbridge realised, was already there.

Torvill had held the British pairs title (a completely different branch of skating to ice dancing) with her partner, Michael Hutchinson, and had done solo skating. Years before, she had done some dancing, too. It argued versatility, and that's another clue.

In time, as Dean created the masterpieces of the early 1980s - the love story of Mack and Mabel, the excitement of Barnum's circus, the lovers' tragedy of - Torvill could skate them.

As teenagers, the partnership unfolding, they fell in and out of love, but the partnership was bonding into the one witnessed last night. Here are more clues: firstly, they could always recreate the intimacy of lovers. After their rhumba at the European Championships in Copenhagen, Torvill said: 'We were in love for the two minutes.'

Because as teenagers they needed to train at unsocial hours, - they both worked - it drew them together and excluded outside relationships. Soon they could communicate telepathically, each sensing intuitively what the other thought.

As they competed internationally (from 1978) and made swift progress, the bonding tightened. They shared a common destiny. They liked and needed each other.

They shared similar backgrounds, from ordinary families who believe in toil. Torvill and Dean substituted their jobs for the chance to be the best in the world. If that meant repeating a move a hundred times, that was what they would do.

It gave them a base: Dean creating impossible scissors step-sequences, for example - leg crossing leg crossing leg - and, using Torvill's versatility, they would work until they could do it at will.

Callaway feels that Torvill's 'neutral' face has been a help, in that it can fashion any mood, any emotion, from the clowning of Barnum, to the tragic Bolero, to the sensuous rhumba, to the ballroom of Let's Face the Music.

Christopher Hilton's book, Torvill and Dean: The Full Story, is to be published by Oxford Illustrated Press in April.