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Notable Triumphs, Wrong Notes
Bob Ottum
February 27, 1984
Early last week in Sarajevo, Valentine Piessev, a Soviet member of the International Skating Union's figure skating committee, lodged a bitter complaint with local Olympic officials: The pro-American crowds at the Zetra Ice Arena were just too demonstrative in their support of the U.S. figure skaters. Such shouting and stamping, waving of flags and unfurling of crude banners was distracting the other competitors, he said.
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February 27, 1984

Notable Triumphs, Wrong Notes

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Naturally, Torvill and Dean led the 19-couple field from the moment they glided onto the ice, nailing down a mere nine out of nine judges en route to the finals and scoring three perfect 6.0s in the Westminster waltz section of the compulsories. Nobody had ever pulled that off in any European, world or Olympic competition. As the finals began, the Soviet pair of Natalya Bestemyanova and Andrei Bukin were in second place and Blumberg and Seibert were third. The experts figured the silver and bronze medals could go either way.

Ah, but if you had bet your bottom Mallomar on the experts, you'd be out of cookies. Blumberg and Seibert had choreographed their entire number around Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, and in the finals, they skated to it so fluidly that the house fell raptly silent for the only time all week. At times the Americans seemed to paint pictures in the air as they flowed along. But the scores were a shocker: one 5.6, a cluster of 5.7s and two 5.8s for technical merit, and slightly higher marks for artistic impression—with one major exception. Cia Bordogna, the Italian judge, punched up a 5.5 on her computer for that category, setting off a puzzled murmur. That score proved to be vital, as we shall see.

Next up were the No. 2 Soviet couple, Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, who skated well, if a touch mechanically, getting scores similar to those of Blumberg and Seibert. Then Bestemyanova and Bukin blew on with a fine performance, entirely different in nature, full of saucy hip-waggling and bursts of spirited humor. They got still higher marks, mostly 5.8s. And finally, there were Torvill and Dean.

The T and D program was perfect, possibly even transcendent, and it was skated entirely to Ravel's Bolero. This one should be shown only after the kids have gone to bed. It started with what appeared to many people to be long moments of unseemly writhing on the ice with the two skaters on their knees. Perhaps one writer best described it when he turned to a colleague in the press gallery and whispered, "How do you spell lubricious?" When T and D finished the four-minute show, the judges gave it six 5.9s and three 6.0s on technical merit—and then came the expected row of perfect 6.0s on artistic impression. For those who keep score on this skating phenomenon, these brought to 107 the number of perfect scores Torvill and Dean have received, dating back to 1978.

But the surprise came on the victory stand. There stood Their Greatnesses draped in gold. There were Bestemyanova and Bukin in the second spot, and Klimova and Ponomarenko in third—with Blumberg and Seibert looking stunned on the sidelines.

What in the world had happened? Just this: Judge Bordogna had determined on her own that Scheherazade was illegal music, despite the fact that head referee Lawrence Demmy of Great Britain had approved all the music beforehand. But such approval doesn't prohibit the judges from voting their own opinions, and Bordogna cited ISU figure skating rule No. 3.42, which provides that ice dancing must be adaptable to a dance floor as well as a skating rink. She gave them a low, low 5.5 for artistic impression and that threw the Americans into a tie with the No. 2 Soviet pair. The tie was broken in favor of the Soviets because one judge had given them a 5.8 in technical merit in the free dance and the U.S. pair a 5.7.

Which left a big question mark hanging in the air. If one could dance to Bolero, then why not Scheherazade? Of the latter, Bordogna said, "This music doesn't have the proper tempo. I challenge you to put it on the record player and dance to it." When reminded that Blumberg and Seibert had done exactly that, she said, "O.K., but I could put the Italian national anthem on a record player and find a way to dance to it, yet that doesn't mean it would be appropriate music." Bordogna claimed that four other judges had also found the music inappropriate, but had "disguised" their disapproval by giving the couple low scores on the first night, knowing Blumberg and Seibert would be skating to Scheherazade two evenings later. "We knew it was a judgmental sport, going in," said Seibert. "But right now, I don't know if we'll go on skating or not."

For their part, T and D went off to a gala party at the British camp, where Princess Anne herself, another certifiable Greatness, showed up and boogied until 1:30 in the morning.

One postscript. Last Friday, Dean rode down the Sarajevo bobsled run on the British four-man sled. What marks did he get? Perfect 6.0s, of course.

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