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Torvill and Dean won over Lillehammer crowd, but judges had last word LILLEHAMMER '94


HAMAR, Norway -- So, how did it happen?

Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean strutted, lifted and skated 10 years off their lives last night, bringing a crowd to its feet, leaving behind a sheet of ice littered with roses and stuffed animals.

They were back in the Winter Olympics and appeared ready to move back to the top of the ice dancing world.

But . . .

They lost. Big time.

In a result that appeared preordained, the Russian team of Oksana Gritschuk and Evgeni Platov brought ice dance into the age of rock 'n' roll to win the free dance and win the gold.

Maia Usova and Alexander Zhulin, another Russian team, won the silver.

And Torvill and Dean, the old-timers who were the first to achieve skating perfection when they won the Olympic gold 10 years ago in Sarajevo, were awarded the bronze.

"We were not a party to what was happening," said Dean, after the couple was dropped from first to third in the third phase of the competition.

What happened was this: another controversy in the most difficult of skating's disciplines to judge.

A year after six judges were suspended for "political judging," the sport last night took another hit with an unpopular decision.

Clearly, the crowd favored the British stars, even if the judging panel went for the Russians.

"It's a subjective sport," Dean said. "It's always difficult when someone doesn't run the fastest or jump the highest.

"You've got nine judges who have to decide things."

Gritschuk and Platov received first-place marks from five judges, Usova and Zhulin were favored by three judges, and Torvill and Dean were placed first by the judge from Great Britain.

"Yeah, we were a little surprised -- a lot," Dean said.

Torvill and Dean had a lot going against them. They were the pros in a sport that wasn't entirely comfortable in creating open competition. They also were forced to refashion 80 percent of their free dance routine in the last 2 1/2 weeks, and they came up with a "Greatest Hits" production, a few moves from 1981, a few more from 1982.

Still, their production of "Let's Face the Music and Dance" was stunning, as they crisscrossed the ice, Torvill in a white dress and sequins, Dean in a black tux, every move different, every move crisp.

The 4-minute routine ended with the pair skating backward, Dean lifting Torvill over his head, and depositing her on the ice to thunderous applause.

"I don't know what the judges saw," said American skater Brian Boitano. "I didn't find much wrong. They're still Torvill and Dean to me."

In retrospect, Dean said, he would have preferred the couple stretch the boundaries of the sport, rather than adhere strictly to the staid rules.

"We went with our heads instead of our hearts," he said.

Ten years ago, they won the audience's heart and the gold medal for their performance of "Bolero." After yesterday's program, Torvill and Dean said they will skate to "Bolero" in an exhibition Saturday to pay tribute to the war victims in Sarajevo.

Yesterday, Usova and Zhulin, the reigning world champions, put on a charismatic show. But they failed to ignite the crowd, even when they performed a signature move as Zhulin grabbed hold of Usova's ponytail and pulled her across the ice.

The show ended with Gritschuk, dressed in a black slit mini-skirt, Bolero jacket and halter top, shaking up a storm to "Rock Around the Clock."

And Platov, with black pants, white shirt and red tie, came along for the ride.

"It was outrageously difficult for us to face the names and the faces of figure skating," said Gritschuk. "We had to overcome these barriers."

They also had to overcome their own fears about performing to rock 'n' roll. Originally, the couple wanted a blues routine, but their coach demanded some good old-fashioned rock.

"Oksana did not like the dance," said the coach, Natalia Linnichuk.

But last night, the 22-year-old from Odessa danced like an American teen-ager. "It was fun," she said. "I didn't think we could win."

Gritschuk saluted Torvill and Dean, saying, "I don't understand how they could keep the good form after 10 years."

And the British couple said any of the top three teams was worthy of the title.

"I guess we're sort of the senior citizens of these Games," Dean said.

Added Torvill: "See how many of these kids are here in 2004."

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