Coomes and Buckland inspired by magic of Sarajevo

10 December 2013 / 13:49

Valentine’s Day next year and it will be three decades since Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean graced the ice of Sarajevo with passion, poise and panache to become the highest-scoring ice dancers in Winter Olympic history.

Famously earning a perfect score of 6.0 for artistic impression from every judge, the pair from Nottingham etched their names into Olympic folklore and the pantheon of British sport.

Transfixing not only the judges but viewers around the world, one of the most elegant ice-dances you will ever see won the pair gold in Yugoslavia.

Figure-skating attracted the expected bandwagon-jumpers after their groundbreaking success and Torvill and Dean became the darlings of the nation, splitting the 1984 Sports Personality of the Year award between them.

In many countries such a monumental achievement would be the catalyst to build a dynasty of figure skaters for years to come.

In Britain, the island where the first sight of snow sends transport infrastructure into meltdown, it was not.

“I think after Torvill and Dean, figure skating did die down a little bit,” said Penny Coomes, half of Britain’s current number one ice dancing team.

Part of the trouble for winter sports in Britain has always been raising awareness, with Amy Williams ending a 30 year wait for an individual Winter Olympic gold medallist with her skeleton gold in Whistler.

The challenge was no different for figure skating and Britain’s only other medal, in seven Games since the breakthrough moment in Sarajevo, came courtesy of Torvill and Dean again when they clinched bronze at Lillehammer in 1994.

“With people like Torvill and Dean doing as well as they’ve done, there’s history in Great Britain,” said the 24-year-old Coomes, who alongside Nick Buckland has high hopes of bettering their 20th place at Vancouver 2010 should they secure their selection for Sochi.

“People need to go back to that and remember what they liked about Torvill and Dean. There are figure skaters for Great Britain that are doing well, so we’d love it if everyone tuned in and watched."

Standing less than five feet tall, Coomes more than compensates for her stature with a burning ambition for the sport and she also paid tribute to two-time European bronze medallists John and Sinead Kerr, who retired after their second Olympic appearance in Vancouver.

“They opened up doors for us,” said Coomes.

“We’re very passionate about helping the next generation because they helped us, so it’s our turn to help someone else.

“We’re definitely hoping to move forward and get those spots and extra places for the younger and upcoming teams in the future.”

With a wealth of performing talent on these shores, Coomes thinks it is only a matter of time before youngsters master the sport to make it Britain’s next craze.

“Figure skating is unlike any other sport,” she said.

“We have all the athleticism of a normal sport but then we have to smile while we’re doing it and show off and look like we’re enjoying it.

“We’re not just running a race, or lifting up a weight, or swimming a length, we’re performing what we’re doing and I think that is something that people can really respond to and connect to and enjoy.”

If Coomes is the bubbly optimist, Buckland, also 24, is her gritty, battle-hardened colleague: at one stage his place at the 2014 Games was in doubt owing to a condition that makes his heart beat at an abnormally fast pace.

A sufferer from tachycardia, Buckland’s prospects of competing looked doubtful when he underwent surgery back in November.

However, after a successful operation the Nottingham-born skater is back on the ice and more in love with the sport than ever following his and Coomes’ recent victory at the British Championships.

“It provides an escapism from normal life, I can come on the ice and forget about all my problems and worries,” said Buckland.

“You can just train and be free and express yourself however you like and it’s something we love to do every day.”

Whether Coomes and Buckland can come anywhere near re-capturing the glory of that famous night in Sarajevo remains to be seen but one thing cannot be disputed: their willingness to put figure skating back on the British map.

© Sportsbeat 2013