Saturday 14 February 2009
Brian Viner: 'Bolero' still leads the way to a sporting nation's heart
The Last Word
It was at the winter Olympics in Sarajevo 25 years ago today, on Valentine's Day 1984, that Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean skated into immortality to the stirring strains of Ravel's 1928 ballet composition Bolero, becoming the first and still the only ice-dancing pair to record a full set of perfect scores, as well as the only people ever to win any kind of global sporting acclaim wearing floaty purple chiffon.
Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, their Ravel's Bolero dance is never more than a couple of clicks away, and I watched it again yesterday, although the footage in the version I watched came from Canadian television, whose commentator, while duly impressed, suggested that technically it wasn't a particularly daring routine.
In a neighbouring booth, meanwhile, the BBC's Alan Weeks was practically hyperventilating with hyperbole. Maybe, come to think of it, we'd have been better off down the years listening to British sporting success being covered by other countries' broadcasters, whose perspective is not warped by patriotic pride.
On the other hand, the swell of patriotism has a place in many of the greatest snippets of commentary, not least Bjorge Lillelien's celebrated response to Norway's 2-1 defeat of England in a 1981 World Cup qualifier. Famously, it wasn't just our footballers who took "a hell of a beating" that day, but also Lord Nelson, Lord Beaverbrook, Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Anthony Eden, Clement Attlee, Henry Cooper, Lady Diana and Maggie Thatcher.
Whatever, I was also struck, while watching Torvill and Dean's gold medal-winning routine, by the healthy relationship sport has with various forms of music. Opera lovers might still wince at the way in which Giacomo Puccini's Turandot was commandeered by the organisers of the 1990 World Cup, but at least it got some appreciative juices flowing in those who had previously assumed "Nessun Dorma" to be a Japanese camper van. Similarly, how many of us are still stirred by ragtime music mainly because it evokes the Pot Black theme tune of blessed memory, or owe our appreciation of instrumental soul to the number that kicked off the BBC's cricket coverage for so many years, "Soul Limbo" by Booker T and the MGs (or Book A Table and the Maitre Ds as one of their biggest fans, John Lennon, liked to refer to them)?
Torvill and Dean did the same for old Maurice Ravel, making him a household name even in households (such as mine, frankly) where the virtues of ballet as an art form are almost entirely overlooked, and where Tchaikovsky's "Dance of the Reed Flutes" in The Nutcracker is firmly known as "Everyone's a Fruit and Nut Case". The only imponderable is what Ravel himself would have thought of the fact that from 1984 onwards his most famous piece of work would forever be associated with an ice rink in Sarajevo.
It probably wouldn't have driven him nuts, not least because he probably already was. Last year, The New York Times published an article suggesting that the Frenchman might well have been suffering the early stages of frontotemporal dementia in 1928, which would account for the repetitive nature of Bolero. Still, the repetition didn't do Torvill and Dean any harm.
Demob-happy cricketers who have passed the worst Test
Passing through the lounge of the Paddington Hilton hotel on Wednesday morning, I noticed Graeme Hick sitting at a table with Gladstone Small, both chortling away in carefree fashion. Whether they were discussing the misery endured by England's cricketers, bowled out for 51 in the first Test, I couldn't be entirely sure, but I should think they owed their cheerfulness at least in part to the knowledge that such humiliations are for ever behind them.
Hick certainly knows what it feels like, having been part of the hapless England team skittled out by the West Indies for an even lower score, 46, in 1994. Still, at least he can cite Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh in mitigation, just as the England team all out for 71 against the West Indies at Old Trafford in 1976 could point to Michael Holding and Andy Roberts in their pomp. Wonderfully as 24-year-old Jerome Taylor bowled to take 5 for 11 in nine overs last week, he's not yet in the same bracket as Holding, Roberts, Ambrose and Walsh. But that could well be where he ends up.
The ineffable and the effing
It was fitting, in a way, that a humble novice chase at Plumpton yielded the great A P McCoy's 3,000th winner on Monday. Not all jockeys commit themselves as wholeheartedly to novice chases at Plumpton as they do to the Cheltenham Gold Cup, for example, but for McCoy (below) there has never been much of a distinction, which of course is precisely why he is 13-times champion jockey. It was nice, too, to see the little Sussex track getting a share of the glory. It's high time it snapped back at the late Fred Winter's crack that there are three racecourses beginning with F – Folkestone, Fontwell, and effing Plumpton.
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