x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Legacy of skating pair who captured the hearts of the world endures

Remember when More than 24 million television viewers tuned in to watch Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean compete at the 1984 Winter Olympic Games.

Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean pose with their gold medals at the 1984 Winter Olympic Games.
Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean pose with their gold medals at the 1984 Winter Olympic Games.

Ballet music, billowing lilac costumes and an ordinary couple from Nottingham hardly seem the ingredients for a defining moment in sporting history. Yet they added up to an unforgettable night at the Sarajevo Winter Olympics. More than 24 million television viewers tuned in to watch world champions Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean compete in the pairs skating event. The 8,500 spectators at the packed Zetra arena sat in hushed anticipation waiting for the British couple to arrive on the ice.

When they emerged, Maurice Ravel's Bolero started to play. Torvill and Dean began their routine slowly and gracefully, becoming more animated as the music escalated. And in a dramatic conclusion they threw themselves to the ice, reflecting the desperation of the doomed lovers in Bolero. With this, the audience rose in unison to give a standing ovation and bouquets of flowers rained on to the rink.

The performance was awarded 12 sixes, including a clean sweep of perfect marks for artistic impression from the nine judges. Afterwards, an emotional Dean said: "We reached the pinnacle. I think it was the most emotional performance we have given." There followed a rare telegram of congratulations from the Queen, who had watched the performance live on television at Buckingham Palace. And the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wrote: "You have captured not just the hearts of your countrymen but the imagination of the whole world."

A month later the pair claimed their fourth consecutive world championship title. Again they performed Bolero, but this time they surpassed even their Olympic achievements by claiming 13 sixes. Ice dancing's most famous couple announced their retirement from competition shortly afterwards. Torvill and Dean started skating together in Nottingham in 1975. Although they competed at national, European and world level, nothing in their early years together hinted at the superstardom that was to come.

The big turning point came in 1981, when a grant from Nottingham City Council enabled them to give up their day jobs and turn professional. For the next four years they were the world's finest ice dancers, winning every competition they entered. In 1981 they became the first couple from outside Russia to clinch the world championship since 1969, and retained the title for the next three years. Before they arrived on the scene couples had used four separate pieces of music in pairs routines, and performances could best be described as ballroom dancing on ice.

The British couple used one continuous piece of music and introduced an artistic element which had never been seen before. Dean, a perfectionist and hard taskmaster, was the creative driving force behind the partnership. The quieter, more easy-going Torvill was the technician able to put her partner's ideas into practice. There was always a fascination about the couple's off-ice relationship, but they always insisted it was nothing more than platonic, with Torvill once famously describing it as "a marriage without sex".

After retiring, the couple turned professional and embarked on a series of world tours, creating and choreographing shows and working on film projects. They also trained a new generation of dancers, including the Canadian siblings Paul and Isabelle Duchesnay. Dean married Isabelle in 1991, but they divorced two years later, and he is now married to former US skater Jill Trenary, with whom he has two sons.

Torvill married American sound engineer Phil Christianson in 1990 and they have a son and daughter. The dancers had captivated the British public, so there was huge disappointment when their return to competition at the 1994 Olympics ended in comparative failure. They could only muster bronze and, for a while at least, it was as if our memories of Sarajevo had been slightly tarnished. Torvill and Dean were awarded OBEs in 1999 and they returned to UK television screens as coaches on the show Dancing on Ice.

Their involvement helped make the programme a huge success and, even today, their influence is still in evidence at ice rinks up and down the country. And there will always be a brief recollection of Valentine's Day 1984 for Britons of a certain age whenever they hear the sweeping score of Bolero.

sport@thenational.ae