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Four seamless, gliding minutes on the ice at Sarajevo in 1984 catapulted Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean to international fame and acclaim. The British duo’s routine, set to a refrain from Ravel’s Boléro, was an achievement as yet unmatched in their sport.
Their journey to Olympic gold at the Yugoslavia Games began six years earlier. Dean, a police constable from Nottingham in England’s East Midlands, split from his ice dance partner Sandra Elson, who had partnered him to victory in the British Junior Ice Dance championships.
Enter Torvill, an insurance clerk in the city who, like Dean, practiced ice skating in her spare time. The pair clicked immediately, and after two years together they entered the competition at the Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, coming fifth.
Having being crowned British champions in the 1979-80 season, they gave up their day jobs to focus full-time on skating.
Working to routines devised by Dean, who had no formal choreography training, the duo notched up an unbroken string of world, European and UK championship wins. By the time Sarajevo came round, a huge buzz had built up in expectation of what they had up their sleeves. The watching world was not disappointed.
On Valentine’s Day 1984, Torvill and Dean began their routine, set to the swelling strains of Ravel’s Bolero, in unconventional fashion – moving to the music but not skating for almost 20 seconds. In fact, this was a canny ploy to shoehorn their 4½-minute routine into the allotted 4minutes and 10 seconds.
When they began to move, the audience – including a staggering 24 million British television viewers – was spellbound. Torvill and Dean’s years of discipline and endless practice was paying off, as they moved around the rink in a lyrical ballet whose passion mirrored the intensity of Ravel’s take on doomed love.
The pair – rumoured to be romantically involved – ended their captivating performance with a highly dramatic denouement, both collapsing on to the ice and laying motionless in each other’s arms. The arena erupted.
The 12 judges shared the audience’s enthusiasm, awarding Torvill and Dean a perfect score of 6.0 for artistic impression and technical merit – a feat that has yet to be emulated. It was the first time the competition had been won by a non-Russian couple, and merited a telegram the next morning from Queen.
Having redefined skating, Torvill and Dean turned professional the following year, and were ineligible for the Games until the International Skating Union relaxed its rules. They returned to Olympic competition at Lillehammer in 1994 and finished with a bronze medal, before going on to perform a string of successful live shows and forge a high-profile TV career with Dancing on Ice.
Despite their decades of success, Sarajevo 1984 is perhaps still their highpoint, a timeless, iconic performance that will forever be indelibly stamped on ice-skating fans’ memories and Olympic history.