Mike Rowbottom @ITG

Nine years ago the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF) asked a sample of over 2,000 UK people what was the most Iconic Moment in the previous 25 years of British women’s sport. Top choice was the gold-medal performance in the ice dance at the 1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo. 

Now you might argue this was a bit of a stretch, given that Jayne Torvill shared that Olympic triumph with the skater she had known since they were both aspiring teenagers at the Nottingham ice rink - Christopher Dean.

But it indicated the enduring appeal of that crowning moment of their career, performed to the sinuous, passionate accompaniment of Ravel’s Bolero, in an arena that would be reduced to rubble in 1992 by Serbian shelling during the Bosnian war.

Yet another indication of the pair’s place in the British psyche occurred this week when ITV 1 screened a two-hour bio-pic of their story at peak viewing time on Christmas Day, aptly entitled "Torvill and Dean", starring Poppy Lee Friar and Will Tudor.

The reviews were appreciative - as were Torvill and Dean themselves, tweeting on their joint account today: "Thank you for all your lovely tweets and everyone who worked on the drama. We are very humbled."

In his review of the programme in the Daily Mail - perhaps the paper that has loved T&D most of all down the years - Christopher Stevens wrote:

"It wasn’t until the climax of the story, when they were about to perform the most passionate, even erotic, routine ever seen at the Winter Olympics, that the two were able to ask each other how they could be so close on the ice yet never more than friends in ordinary life."

By their own accounts Torvill and Dean, in despite of a million wistful wishes, have never been further in the romantic stakes than a quick kiss at the back of a bus while travelling to their first international competition.

Torvill has two adopted children with her husband Phil Christensen. Dean has twice been married, and has two sons from his most recent wife, the American skater Jill Trenary.  

But they shared, and still share, a profound understanding of each other.

Ten years after their Sarajevo triumph T&D – as they had swiftly become known in the British press, where headline counts for tabloids in particular could scarcely accommodate "Torvill and Dean" within any intelligible sentence - returned to the ice in competitive mode after a decade touring their own professional show.

The International Skating Union (ISU), which had seen much colour, variety and interest drain from the sport following the British pair's retirement from the amateur ranks in 1984, had allowed for their return - and that of other vivid stars such as the Calgary 1988 individual figure skating champions Brian Boitano of the United States and Katarina Witt of Germany, who had also won at Sarajevo 1984  - with a change of the rules ahead of the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer.

The professionals came back. The television figures rose. Everyone was happy.

The change in the rules ahead of the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games allowed the return of professional former Olympic skaters such as Germany's Katarina Witt - but not everyone in the sport was happy about it ©Getty Images
The change in the rules ahead of the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games allowed the return of professional former Olympic skaters such as Germany's Katarina Witt - but not everyone in the sport was happy about it ©Getty Images

Or nearly everyone.

Despite returning in triumph to a sweep of perfect 6.0 marks at the British Championships in Sheffield, T&D's re-introduction to international competition, at the 1994 European Championships in Copenhagen, proved a confusing experience for them both.

After their triumph in Sarajevo, there had been much grumbling within international skating circles that Torvill and Dean had innovated beyond the scope and spirit of the rules and the emphasis changed to a more regulated approach.

Upon their return to competition, they were faced with the awkward task of relearning how to pitch their routine to a new rank of judges, amid an atmosphere in which many begrudged the return of the professional razzmatazz performers to the Olympic arena.

Thus the British pair's routine in Copenhagen was technical and relatively conservative. But when the young Russian pair with whom they shared their joint-second placing after the compulsory figures, Oksana Grishuk and Evgeni Platov, won the free dance section with an exuberant, rock and roll display, the 1984 Olympic champions - then in their mid-30s - were suddenly left looking out of step.

Bizarrely, however, the young Russians were only placed second overall, with gold going to Torvill and Dean on the basis that they earned more second place votes in the free dance than the other Russian pair who had entered the final phase as leaders, Maya Usova and Alexander Zhulin.

When Dean was told by reporters, of whom I was one, that they could not fully understand the scoring, he responded with a grin: "Join the club."

Before they left Copenhagen, the still, just, golden pair were asked if they would have altered their comeback routine had they known how the judging nuances had changed in their absence. They responded in unison, but for once they were at cross-purposes. "Perhaps" said Torvill. "Yes" said Dean.

Less than a month later, after sweated hours at the Milton Keynes ice arena, they had transformed 80 per cent of their free dance routine - Let's Face the Music and Dance - in time for Lillehammer 1994. But the old certainty had gone.

At the Hamar Ice Arena they finished a demoralising third in the compulsory figures - which accurately presaged an eventual, honourable bronze medal that nevertheless fell short of their earlier ambitions. 

Back for bronze - after a 10-year hiatus, Britain's Olympic ice dance champions of 1984 had to settle for third place at the Lillehammer Games ©Getty Images
Back for bronze - after a 10-year hiatus, Britain's Olympic ice dance champions of 1984 had to settle for third place at the Lillehammer Games ©Getty Images

 A group of us spotted them sitting disconsolately after the compulsories, face-to-face at a plastic table in the little canteen, steaming cardboard cups in front of them.

"If we had known before what we know now, we would not have come back," said Dean. "We are positive about what we can do. But it's not a question of getting to the line faster than someone else. It's about impressing nine judges and sensing what their general mood is."

They sensed resistance, too, from competitors who had grown up in a sport where Torvill and Dean had been merely an Olympic legend, but who now faced them again. They spoke like a married couple of many years’ standing.

"I don't think it's us..." Torvill said. "It's just professionals. It's just a feeling..." "Like you shouldn't be here," Dean completed the thought.

That day, The Sun carried its cruel headline: "Torvill and Has-Been". Dean asked us, plaintively: "Do we look old out there?" No one actually answered.

They may have been more triumphant - before and since. But for this reporter T&D have never been so appealing.