Revolutionary Ice Dancers Return

New rules let Torvill and Dean back into the Games; other rules limit their trademark style

TEN years ago in Sarajevo, skating and Olympic history were intertwined when British ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean turned in a performance so artistically brilliant and flawlessly executed that people were left spellbound.

Their impeccable performance came in the biggest, highest-pressure showcase of the sport. The judges posted a clean row of 6.0s for artistic impression, the highest mark possible, to underscore what everyone already knew - that their rendition of ``Bolero'' was a certifiable masterpiece.

The significance of this for Lillehammer's Olympics is that the current Games are privileged to reintroduce T&D, as they're often called, to the Olympic Games. Skating's new eligibility rules have opened the door to skaters who have gone on to skate professionally. Torvill and Dean make their grand return today with the ice-dance compulsories. The competition continues Sunday and Monday.

``Their reputation precedes them like no other skaters in history,'' says Judy Blumberg, a professional US ice dancer and TV commentator who skated against T&D many times. ``Whatever they do, it will be done to perfection; it's just their standard.''

As high as this personal standard is, however, the former champions do not appear to be shoo-ins for Olympic gold. At Copenhagen last month, they won the European championship, but they didn't exactly walk away with the title. ``That was the hardest competition of our careers,'' Torvill said afterward.

In fact, the ice-dancing competition became a horse race among three couples, resulting in the closest finish in European championship history.

T&D are often credited with revolutionizing the sport with their innovative routines. But new rules now prohibit them from pushing the envelope the way they did in winning four world titles and one Olympic gold.

Nevertheless, the pair has been eager to reel in the event from the avant-garde fringe. ``The judges seem to think - and we do, too - that ice dance has got off course,'' Dean told Life magazine. ``It's too deep and intellectual and not really about dance. Too many deaths [acted out] on the ice. Too dirge-y.''

The couple may have backed off from breaking new ice in one regard, but they certainly aren't letting ice crystals form under their blades. ``They set the standard artistically in 1984, but now they are so much stronger technically,'' says Tracy Wilson, an expert commentator for CBS.

The Torvill and Dean story has long fascinated the skating world. When they began skating together in the '70s, she was an insurance clerk and he a bobby in their home town of Nottingham, England. They became British champions in 1978, but didn't skate full-time until 1980.

They have continued to skate together all these years, touring professionally since 1984. Jayne has married; Christopher married and was divorced from French-Canadian ice dancer Isabelle Duchesnay, a development that received a fair bit of play in the scandal-seeking British tabloids.

As for their riveting 1984 Olympic performance, this reporter retains one indelible impression from their date with skating immortality.

Because their ``Bolero'' number was an anticipated highlight of the Games, press seats in Sarajevo's Zetra Arena were in such demand that I was forced to watch it on a TV monitor in the interview area.

Upon boarding an Olympic bus for the arena, I was about to occupy one of two curiously empty aisle seats. But there, sitting at opposite windows, obviously not wanting company, were Torvill and Dean.

It was on to the back of the bus for this journalist, and on to skating history for them.

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