Winter Olympics / Ice Skating: Torvill and Dean slip sadly into the bronze age: British champions fail to repeat their European triumph at Games as Russian pair display their mettle to find gold

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FOR T & D, read G & P. Ten years after they won Olympic gold, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean had to accept bronze as the ice dance title passed to the young Russian pair of Oksana Gritschuk and Yevgeny Platov here last night.

The crowd, judging by their cheers and bouquets, favoured the British pair. But the judges went for the Russians' exuberance: it seemed like a vote for the future of the event rather than its glorious past. 'We like to think tonight that the audience were our judges,' Dean said. 'We feel we won for ourselves.'

The British pair gave everything in a performance which spoke of outstanding technique and painstaking effort. All the new, showbiz elements which they had worked into their 'Let's Face The Music And Dance' routine since its underwhelming reception at the European Championships last month were given the maximum gloss. 'We have never skated it better,' Dean said.

But despite earning one of only two perfect sixes on the night - given for artistic merit by the British judge, Mary Parry - it was not enough. At the age of 35 and 36, time seemed to have finally caught up with them but how they had raged against the dying of the light.

'We are the senior citizens of ice dance,' Dean said. 'Yes,' Torvill interjected. 'But how many of these kids will be around in 2004? We are not too disappointed now, but we will be very down in the morning. We won't like waking up and staring at a bronze medal.'

As the marks came up, all Torvill could do was shrug and smile. Dean looked choked. 'We should have gone with our emotions and been more daring,' Dean said of the routine afterwards. 'We are obviously not doing what the ISU (Ice Skating Union) wants.'

Torvill's reaction was that she neither knew nor cared what the judges wanted because she would not be doing it any more. Presumably she meant the Olympics, as both are due to compete at the World Championships in Japan next month before returning to the professional scene.

Maya Usova and Alexander Zhulin, the Russian world champions, held on to the silver with a characteristically sophisticated performance. Sophistication was definitely not the word for the new Olympic champions, whose display, which incorporated 'Rock around the clock', was all high-energy trawling, jiving and smiling. At times you felt they could have done with a hot rod car to drape themselves over.

The 22-year-old Gritschuk, wearing a short, spangly black jacket over an even shorter spangly black top, projected youth madly. Platov, 26, with white shirt, dark trousers and a red tie, looked as if he was about to nip back behind the bar.

Although their display did not appear to have the verve of that which won them the free dance section at the European Championships - effectively transferring that title from Usova and Zhulin to Torvill and Dean by dint of the odd scoring system - perhaps that was because it came as less of a surprise. Or perhaps not - the crowd reaction was appreciative rather than rapturous.

Torvill and Dean's initial tension as they skated out on to the ice was dispelled by a yell from Andris Toppe, one of their coaching team. 'Tits and teeth,' he reminded Torvill raucously. It raised two smiles. But the smiles that came after for the British pair were all strained.

They entered the arena last night in first place, having pulled themselves back into contention after disappointing marks for their compulsory routine had left them in third place behind their Russian rivals.

Their original dance, a Rolls- Royce of a rumba, had turned the competition round for them just as it had in last month's European Championships. It has been their one fixed point in a mass of shifting demands, turning out to be as good as expected, not requiring any revision.

A very different case to their free programme, which was 80 per cent reworked in the space of just over two sweaty weeks on the ice at Milton Keynes after the initial, technically minded routine had failed to capture the imagination of the judges at the European Championships.

The decision to return from the professional ranks after a 10-year absence has been a huge gamble for Torvill and Dean. Indeed, when Dean first announced his inclination to make a comeback, Torvill assumed that he must be kidding.

At a stage in their careers when they were beginning to fade gloriously into the west, the relaxation of Olympic rules governing professionals gave them the opportunity to generate enormous publicity. It is an opportunity which they have taken - Sunday's television broadcast of their original dance, for instance, drew a British audience of 12.4m.

But their return has had a heavy price. The pressures generated by successive competitions within the space of six weeks - National Championships in Sheffield, European Championships in Copenhagen and Olympics here - have taken a toll which has surprised both of them.

Their strenuous efforts have been undertaken in an atmosphere polarised bewilderingly between adulation from the millions watching back home and resistance to them - as returning professionals - from many within the sport.

At times, even the weight of adulation has appeared daunting to them. Torvill's reaction when she heard the numbers of people who were watching them back home on television was one of disbelief, almost dismay. She held her head in her hands.

When their carefully worked, technical version of 'Let's Face The Music And Dance' earned nine perfect sixes for presentation at the National Championships on 9 January, there was the temptation to assume that the rest of their ambitions would be realised with the same apparently magical ease. But it was never going to be as simple as that.

Life continues to prove less than simple for Tonya Harding. A CBS television broadcast yesterday showed her storming out of an interview with Connie Chung, the network anchorwoman.

Harding refused to answer any more questions after being asked whether she felt judges would be inclined to mark her down because of the publicity which has surrounded last month's attack on her rival, Nancy Kerrigan. Chung quoted one report which claimed that two Czech judges said they would be negatively influenced by the case if they had been adjudicating.

A HAT-TRICK by Miroslav Satan helped Slovakia to a 6-2 win over France yesterday, making them pool winners on their Olympic ice hockey debut. Their reward, though, was a difficult quarter-final against Russia. Peter Nedved scored a decisive 31st-minute goal as Canada beat Sweden 3-2. In other quarter-final matches tomorrow, Canada meet the Czech Republic and Germany play Sweden.

(Photograph omitted)

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