Skating into history – Jayne Torvill, Olympian ice skater

Yesterday was the final of the popular television show, Dancing on Ice. Today we celebrate one of the judges, Jayne Torvill (b.1957), as a pioneering woman of Sussex, OBE, champion ice skater and Olympian.

Photograph of Jayne Torvill iceskating. The spotlight is on her on the ice. She is wearing a purple dress and holding onto a long purple band of fabric that is hanging from outside the photo.
Ice skater Jayne Torvill

As half of the most renowned skating pairs in the UK, Heathfield resident Jayne Torvill skated into history on 14th February 1984 when her performance with Christopher Dean to Ravel’s Bolero at the Sarajevo Winter Olympics won the plaudit of twelve perfect 6.0 and six 5.9 marks.  This score made them the highest scoring figure skaters (for one performance) in history.  Their flawless performance is still described today as the most perfect ice dance the world has ever seen.

Anyone who remembers the performance when it aired to 150 million viewers worldwide that day in 1984 or who has seen it on youtube will remember the fraction of a second’s silence as the duo, clad in purple, and finishing their routine lying still on the ice, before the Zetra Stadium erupted into stunned applause according them a rare standing ovation.

It was a highpoint in a stellar career that has made Torvill and Dean the most successful British ice dancing pair, and two of the most successful sportspeople, in history.

The duo both come from Nottinghamshire.  Torvill was already a champion by the time she met Dean in 1975 having won the British National Pairs Champion with her then partner Michael Hutchenson at age 14 in 1971.  It was to prove an inspired paring, with the duo winning their first trophy only in 1976 in Sheffield.  Other awards followed from both home and abroad.  By 1980 Torvill and Dean were British National Dance Championships, had come in fifth at the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid and were competing in other international competitions but, working full time, Torvill as an insurance clerk and Dean as a trainee police officer, still fitting in training when they could. With the help of sponsorship from Nottingham City Council they gave up their jobs and trained at a top centre in Munich full time.

In 1982 they met the singer and actor, Michael Crawford backstage after a performance of ‘Barnum’ and he offered to mentor the pair in acting skills.  They also took ballet lessons to hone their skills.

By the time of the 1984 Winter Olympics, Torvill and Dean were already reigning three-time European and three-time world champions and were much loved stars with the country behind them.  Despite the sport traditionally being dominated by the then Soviet Union, they went into the competition as favourites and didn’t disappoint.

However, their performance in Sarajevo wasn’t without risk.  The choice of music was considered unconventional with most skaters choosing routines that started fast, became slower, then picked up speed again towards the end.  Ravel’s Bolero maintains the same rhythm throughout with its rising crescendo giving the piece emotional tone that could either work for or against them.  There was also the issue of the length of the music.  With routines allowed to take no longer than four minutes and Bolero lasting over fifteen minutes, it had already been substantially cut.  When it was found to be impossible to cut it any shorter than four minutes eighteen seconds, it was decided that the first eighteen seconds were going to be spent with the pair simply kneeling on the ice and moving their bodies as their performance wasn’t considered officially starting until the blades on their skates touched the ice.  It was a gamble that might not have paid off but as it was the beginning seconds when the pair seemed to flutter around each other could not have been a better introduction to the passionate and heartfelt performance that ensued.

Dean later told the BBC that it was the most emotional performance they had ever given and Torvill thanked the people of Nottingham after being awarded her gold medal.

Torvill and Dean’s Olympic gold was followed up with a record-breaking maximum points in the world figure-skating championship shortly after.  In 1989 Torvill and Dean were elected to the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame and in 1994 they returned to the Olympic stage in Lillehammer, Norway and won a bronze medal.

Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean skating on the ice. Chris has his back to the camera and his right arm outstretched. His hand is holding Jayne's who is leaning forward towards him with her back leg up in the air. She is wearing a pink and white dress. He is wearing a grey top and black trousers.
Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean performing during the Dancing on Ice tour in Manchester M.E.N Arena, 1.30pm Sunday 1st May 2011.

Now Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean have been involved with ITV’s ‘Dancing on Ice’ as coaches and judges since the show first aired in 2006.

A long time resident of East Sussex who once admitted to ‘Coast’ magazine that she used to enjoy rollerblading on the seafront at Bexhill-on-Sea, Jayne Torvill has committed a lot of energy to local good causes.  As the patron of Demelza Hospice who provide care for terminally ill children and have branches in Eltham, Sittingbourne and St Leonards on Sea, she has said that the hundreds of teddy bears that used to be thrown onto the ice following her performances have been donated to them.  In 2012 she became patron of East Sussex Foster Care Association (ESFCA), a local independent charity serving the needs of foster carers, their families and the children who are placed in their care by the local authority. Jayne Torvill was awarded the OBE in 2000.

Her performance with Christopher Dean at Sarajevo in 1984, still watched and admired, has gone down in history as one of the most popular achievements in the history of British sport.





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