Winter Olympics / Lillehammer '94: T & D and the debt to T & C: The twin force who are primed to guide the perfect partners of ice dancing to a new level of greatness. Simon O'Hagan talks to the extrovert and the quiet achiever behind a happy return

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The Independent Online
IF Torvill and Dean win gold at the Winter Olympics, history won't be repeating itself just for them. For 64-year-old Betty Callaway, the grande dame of British ice dance, the wheel will have glided full circle, too.

From 1978, when she bumped into them in a lift in Ottawa, to 1984, when she was at rinkside in Sarajevo to see all those perfect sixes light up the scoreboard, Callaway was as much a part of the T & D success story as the blades on their skates.

As trainer to Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean - now as well as then - Callaway is entitled to her share of the glory. But that is not her way, at least not in public. A stickler for etiquette, according to Marika Humphreys, one of her new young charges, Callaway would think it quite improper to thrust herself into the limelight. 'I just love teaching,' she says, as if that were the be all and end all. And it is also the case that she was not, and is not, alone in overseeing T & D's development. As joint trainer, there is Bobby Thompson, at 54 himself one of the world's most experienced and respected trainers, and doing a job no less important than Callaway's.

Indeed, Thompson feels irritated at the way his role is often overlooked. 'It's getting up my nose,' he says. He accepts that in the Eighties he was 'more of an advisory sort of person, not an overt influence', while Callaway was seen very much as the key figure behind T & D. But now, both agree, their roles are equal, with Callaway tending to provide technical guidance, while Thompson concentrates on the artistry. 'We're very different personalities,' Thompson says. 'She's a quiet sort of person. I'm more expressive in the way I describe things.' Callaway says: 'He's more extrovert, going more for effect. I perhaps go more for technical detail.'

None the less, it is Callaway, not least for historical reasons who is the off-rink influence more than any other that we associate with T & D. Her natural authority, combined with an equally natural ease of manner, have made her ideal teaching material.

Callaway had no skating career of her own to speak of. She fell in love with the sport as a teenager, but had little talent for actually doing it. She could see what was required, though, and her appreciation of the how and why of skating marked her out as a trainer. It is a sport which, more than almost any other, is about what others see. 'She has taught us to perform for the judges,' says Humphreys, who with Justin Lanning forms Britain's leading young ice dance partnership.

For many years Callaway coached with her former husband Roy Callaway, but their marriage had ended shortly before she took up with T & D. From then on, her world and theirs were almost as one. When T & D turned pro 10 years ago, it meant the end for Callaway, too, at least as far as that side of her career was concerned. She gave up coaching, other than taking the occasional seminar, and did some commentating for ITV. 'I loved that,' she says. 'It was something completely different. But I started to miss teaching.'

The way back into the sport was provided in 1988, when the Slough Ice Rink opened, and she became its skating director. Shortly after that she suffered a tragedy, when her husband William Fittall was killed in a fire at their Beaconsfield home. 'I was very lucky I hadn't given up skating,' Callaway says. 'It gave me something to throw myself back into.' Then, last year, came T & D's call for Callaway and Thompson.

Callaway admits that things are a little different this time around. 'It used to be that I said what I wanted and they just did it. They were young and inexperienced and I was the one who had been there before. Now it's more a question of discussing things.'

What, then, is the secret of Callaway's success? She puts herself at an advantage from the outset, by the choices of couples she makes. 'You have to like them as people,' she says. 'You're like a family. And if I feel they haven't the talent to start off with, then I'm not really going to be interested.' Talent-spotting, of course, is just another of Callaway's gifts.

Bobby Thompson singles out Callaway's knowledge of the sport as the key to her greatness. And nobody knows it better. Marika Hymphrys says Callaway is known throughout skating as simply the best all-round trainer in the world - a great thinker and watcher, getting results by persuasion and charm; capable of firmness, but commanding all the more respect for her unflappability. 'I've never seen her mad,' Humphreys says. 'I think if she ever got angry, she'd just leave the room.' Britain will be hoping that Callaway won't be going anywhere at Lillehammer, except, if she can be persuaded, up on to the podium with T & D.

(Photographs omitted)

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