This 1984 ice dance is still one of the most watched events in British TV history

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(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

On Monday night, the best ice dancers in the world will compete in the free dance, the sport’s final event in PyeongChang. Among the top 10 coming out of the short dance are all three of Team USA’s duos, all three of Team Canada’s duos, a pair of Olympic Athletes from Russia and the French duo who pushed through an early wardrobe malfunction to position themselves in second place.

However it’s the team of Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland from Great Britain, currently in 10th place, who have the most daunting task of all: performing in the shadow of one of the most iconic moments in British sports history.

Exactly 34 years ago, 23.95 million viewers in Great Britain alone tuned into watch Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean compete for the ice dancing gold medal in the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics. To put that into perspective, the population of the UK at the time was about 56 million – so nearly 43% of Torvill and Dean’s compatriots were watching when they made Olympic history.

As revolutionaries in the sport, Torvill and Dean’s reputation preceded them – helping to draw the incredible ratings. Still, their dance to Maurice Ravel’s Boléro could’ve been lost to history, dismissed as a zeitgeist-y moment of early 1980’s pop culture. Instead, it remains the literal gold standard for Olympic figure skating perfection and is celebrated as one of the greatest sporting moments in UK history..

Receiving twelve perfect 6.0s and six 5.9s, including artistic impression scores of 6.0 from every judge, they went on to win the gold medal with the highest figure skating score in the history of the Olympics. That score still held the record when the International Skating Union chose to abandon the 6.0 system after the 2002 Olympics, replacing it with the ISU Judging System that is used now. 

Torvill and Dean were’t just trailblazers in execution, either. They were also expert choreographers, and they spent the first 18 seconds of that routine on their knees for a very specific reason. Ravel’s Boléro, the composer’s most famous work, is 18 minutes long. The duo had a musical arranger condense it down to four minutes and 28 seconds in length, but the Olympic rules state a dance cannot exceed four minutes and 10 seconds. So to avoid jeopardizing the integrity of the musical work by cutting it down further, they found a loophole.

“Our arranger got it to 4:28, but couldn’t shorten it further without changing the tempo and crescendo,” Dean said in 2014. “Hence our opening balletics: at the time, the stopwatch only started when you began to skate. Watch carefully: we kick off on our knees, and our blades don’t hit the ice for several bars.”

Torvill and Dean’s dedication to detail paid off, and they celebrated their gold medal victory with an illicit bottle of champagne that they snuck into the Olympic Village, and Princess Anne – the daughter of Queen Elizabeth II – joined them for a toast. You’ve got to figure that for British Olympians, it doesn’t get much better than that.

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