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Just The Perfect Couple
Bob Ottum
November 07, 1983
Ice dancers Torvill and Dean are nonpareil—on top of the Worlds and all but assured of Olympic gold
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November 07, 1983

Just The Perfect Couple

Ice dancers Torvill and Dean are nonpareil—on top of the Worlds and all but assured of Olympic gold

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When they started skating together, Torvill was already bored with her clerk's job, and Dean was a rookie on the Nottingham force. For a time, T & D tried to combine both worlds—working out while their occupational colleagues slept. At one point they had regular training sessions from 4 to 6 a.m. After the workout, Torvill would dash home to get ready for work, and Dean would jump on the Zamboni to refinish the ice for the day's skaters. By 1978, they had won the British title, which they've held ever since, and were clearly on the move.

For T & D, their biggest break came in the summer of 1980 when they finally decided to give up everything else and make a run for No. 1 in the world: Skate Or bust. They figured out the barest budget that it would take to get them to the 1984 Winter Olympics, and in a surprise move that was bitterly opposed by the Conservative Party minority, the Nottingham City Council awarded them a grant for training expenses: £14,000 (about $21,000) a year to carry them to Sarajevo. It proved to be a helluva hunch bet. That year, T & D finished fourth in the world meet and fifth at the Lake Placid Olympics. In 1981 they won the European crown and their first world championship, a title dominated by the Soviets for the previous 12 years. T & D were No. 1 in the world again in 1982. With each victory came startling new records in scoring, row upon row of 5.9s and steadily growing strings of 6.0s, all of which would climax with that record string in Helsinki.

Other honors piled up as well: In both 1981 and '82 Torvill and Dean were voted Team of the Year by the British Sports Writers Association; T & D were received at No. 10 Downing St. in November 1979; two years later, they made the Queen's Honours list and trooped off to Buckingham Palace to receive MBEs.

Not that any of this turned their pretty heads. At Prime Minister Thatcher's reception, Torvill had to go to the bathroom, and she later told Hennessy that the loo "was nice, really nice. Lots of gold taps and things, gold door handles. Think of the people who must have used it!" After being received and decorated by the Queen, Torvill bubbled on and on about Buckingham Palace: "There was a man in funny dress, an usher I suppose, and there were some gawkers."

Said Dean, "Gurkhas, I think you mean."

Now, back at the Forum Hotel, T & D relax over their cappuccino. Their relationship, they insist, is difficult to explain. It might have been a sort of love once, some years ago, but it isn't now—it's an inexplicable closeness. And any romantic impulses either may feel for anyone else are firmly put aside until after the Olympics. They are closer than best friends; they're more than brother and sister, Torvill says, and less than husband and wife. It's a response they've both made several times, and they're clearly weary of it, but the press keeps boring in on them, unable to accept that two people who skate in such stunning unison aren't lovers. But then Dean points out the matter-of-fact, crushing lack of romance in their skating.

"This is constant, unglamorous work," he says. "Coming up to today, for example, we haven't taken one day off in 2½ months." Says Torvill, "Everything we've done is a progression to this goal. We've become a bit blinkered to any other life. And now, at last, we're here. But we're not surprised about it."

And they put down their cups, in perfect unison, and talk on, in nicely cadenced sentences, drawing pictures in the air with their hands while they explain things.

Dean: "You must lash yourself to the point where, if you're having a bad night, nobody will ever know."

Torvill: "Right. And the biggest secret of our success is this: We put the crowd at ease. When you get out there, the crowd should never be nervous for you."

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