Off the Beaten Track: 1

My blog is called Angies Allsorts for a reason, because my interests tend to naturally gravitate toward lots of subject areas, the more obscure the better. I have a hospital radio show with the same name, as I like to try and play a blend of music that would satisfy most peoples’ tastes. It’s rather like the saying from Forrest Gump “just like a box of chocolates, a little something for everyone”. My “Off the Beaten Track” theme will dip into subject areas that have caught my attention recently, but may not have made a huge impact on the mainstream news. This week I look at science imagery, engineering, sport (diving, football, figure skating) and name games.

Congo Engineering Helps Control Traffic Congestion

Kinshasa, the capital of The Democratic Republic of Congo, suffers like many other cities from overly congested road networks. However, thanks to the innovation of Congolese engineer Therese Izay things are set to improve. Izay has developed two traffic robots which tower over the busiest intersections of the capital. Immune to bribery; which the local human traffic police have been accused of; the robots are able to report traffic violations back to a central computer system. The robot has red lights situated within its huge body and green lights on its arms which can extend. Turning to face each junction in turn the robot can ensure both pedestrians and drivers can traverse safely. Therese Izay runs a women’s technology cooperative to promote women’s engineering and hopes that her innovative idea may be taken up by other African nations and beyond. It is both a brilliant and yet simple idea, to a perplexing problem suffered throughout the world. This story (seen on Aljazeera) made me smile and think “just genius”.

Scientific Photo Exhibition

Listening to Radio 5 I was very happy to hear that this year’s Wellcome Image Awards will be exhibited in four major science museums in Glasgow, Belfast, Manchester and Cardiff. Eighteen fantastic images depicting a world normally unseen by the human eye can now be viewed thanks to the innovation of scientific imaging techniques. The images are also displayed in the window of the Wellcome Trust Headquarters in London, and I went to see them specially and was not disappointed.

Technology Helps Shoppers

Clifton Village Stores near Ashbourne in Derbyshire is a convenience shop with a difference, it’s a vending machine situated in the car park of the Cock Inn pub. The only grocery shop in Clifton closed over twelve years ago and until now villagers had to travel to the nearest town for everyday essentials. With little or no bus service in the area, unless you had access to a car, residents had a long walk, or had to do without. Now villagers can buy everyday essentials; (stocked with around 80 varieties of goods); in the same way as you would buy a coffee at a vending machine. Everything from toilet rolls, dog food, teabags, beans, eggs, bacon etc can be sourced from the machine. Just pop your money in, tap in the requisite food code and your item will be dispensed using a “soft edged” technology retrieval system, to ensure even the most delicate of items remain in pristine condition. The machine can email suppliers when stock items get low, thus ensuring a reliable and fresh stock supply is always available. I literally just caught the tail end of this story on a BBC Midlands broadcast and thought what an innovative and useful concept it was.

Sport

Whilst in a coffee shop on St Patrick’s Day, I picked up a newspaper sport section to glance through. It was mainly filled with football matters (about 75%) with the Liverpool 3-0 win over Man Utd, and the Tottenham/Arsenal derby the big features. Then rugby followed as the weekend had seen the conclusion to the six nations tournament, and the new F1 racing season had a write up along with the T20 cricket news. Any other sports were relegated to the last page, and had little more than a paragraph at best each. Though not surprised by this I was a little disappointed, for although I love my football, I get rather fed up with the same thing being forensically examined wherever I look. Other things do happen in the sporting world, and other sports do exist, though we only seem to see them on mainstream TV during the Olympics/Commonwealth Games. So what’s happened recently which I feel should get a bit of acknowledgement.

Diving: Matty Lee and Daniel Goodfellow at the tender ages of 16 and 17 respectively won their first senior medal in competition, securing a Bronze in the 10m synchronised diving event in Beijing. A second FINA Diving World Series Bronze medal was secured in Dubai and the guys got the most points in the contest (80.64) with an inward 3 ½ somersault dive. Tom Daley also won a solo Bronze in Beijing but came 4th in Dubai narrowly missing another medal.

Football: Robin Van Persie suffered a sprained knee after the European game at Old Trafford where he scored a hat-trick against Olympiakos. He looks to be out of action for 4-6 weeks, and the injury made the news on radio, TV and the papers. His recovery will undoubtedly be helped by his clubs access to the best medical facilities and experts in the game worldwide. However, I read this week about a young man who suffered a horrific injury playing football, who will probably recover with the help of the best that the British NHS facilities can provide. Playing in the Calor League Southern Premier Division Chippenham’s midfielder Rob Dean took to the pitch on Tuesday 18th March to play against Hungerford. With about half an hour on the clock Rob endured a terrible tackle, which resulted in him suffering a fully dislocated right knee and a twisted tibia. It looks like he will require total reconstructive surgery, and just reading about his injuries made me feel a bit queasy. Rob Dean required paramedic attention for around 45 minutes on the pitch before being taken to hospital, and the referee rightly abandoned the game.

Figure Skating: The World Championships begin in Japan on March 26th, and I had to trawl through the internet for web page articles, to find out what was going on. Several big names with Olympic medals will NOT be in Japan including: Ice Dance couple Davis & White (US) and Virtue & Moir (Can), Men’s Patrick Chan (Can) and Women’s Kim Yuna (South Korea) and Adelina Sotnikova (Russia), Pairs Volosozhar & Trankov (Russia). Some exclusions have been by personal choice as Chan and the American/Canadian couples decided not to compete, whilst Kim Yuna retired after her last routine in Sochi. But unusually the Russian medal winners have only been named as substitutes for their country, and so will only compete at the World Championships if an injury occurs to the first choices in their discipline. In the Men’s discipline one of Canadian participants Nam Nguyen has just been crowned World Junior Men’s Champion, although he is unlikely to pose a major threat to the hot favourite Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan). For the Women’s event the Italian Carolina Kostner Olympic Bronze medallist is probably the highest ranking, but it will be interesting to see what European Champion Julia Lipnitskaia (Russia) and US skater Gracie Gold can do. With so many of the dominant “big-names” being missing there could well be some interesting results, even perhaps involving the British Ice Dance couple Coomes & Buckland, who won Bronze in the Europeans. During the Olympics the judging found fault with their compulsory dance routine and they were heavily penalised, both in the team and individual events. Yet it was the same routine that helped win them a Bronze in the Europeans! So who knows what might happen, but I shall be keeping up with the Figure Skating World Championship news on the web.

Name Game

Race horses a lot of the time can have some peculiar names, but occasionally you can see the inspiration behind them, and so it was when I came across FiftyShadesOfHay.

In the Torino v Livorno match over the weekend a hat trick was scored by Ciro Immobile to secure a 3-1 win for Torino. This made Immobile the top scorer in Serie A on Saturday and so clearly there is nothing wrong with his mobility in front of goal!!

Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward: Gielgud Theatre

On Saturday March 8th 2014 I took my seat in a packed auditorium to see my first Coward play. The attraction which had drawn me (and my husband) to the West End was Angela Lansbury who was playing Madame Arcati. Most probably that was the reason many were there as well. As the lights went down a hush descended and the action began. When Dame Angela Lansbury first appeared the audience broke into spontaneous applause.

The Condomine’s Charles and Ruth have arranged a dinner party with friends Dr & Mrs Bradman and the medium Madame Arcati. After dinner Madame Arcati would perform a seance and thus it was hoped , would provide Charles with character material for his next  book. Neither the Condomine’s or Bradman’s believed in Madame Arcati’s abilities, and after the proceedings finished both the Condomine’s and Bradman’s ( especially the women) dissolved into fits of laughter. Madame had been a spectacular failure they thought, but had she, as clearly something had happened. It was Charles faced with the apparition of his first wife Elvira who realised that “contact with the other side” had happened spectacularly. The remainder of the play and its humour relied on the interjections between Charles, his dead wife Elvira and his second wife Ruth. With three way conversations going on, but only two living people being seen, much confusion and hilarity ensued.

Finally convinced that  the Elvira (played by the wonderful Jemima Rooper) ethereal existence was only too real , Ruth sought out the help of Madame Arcati to get rid of her rival. However when Madame expressed how difficult that task may be, Ruth showed her disdain to the medium and Madame stormed off. With the clear realisation that Elvira wanted Charles dead so she could be with him forever, Ruth went out to seek help from the local vicar. Before she could summon that help Ruth perished in a car accident, which should have involved Charles instead. Now there were two dead wives to haunt Mr Condomine, and Ruth could torment Elvira to her hearts content.

Eventually Elvira begged Charles to get Madame Arcati to send her back to where she had come from. This time Madame came prepared with a special spell, but no matter how many times she cast it, nothing worked. Obviously another psychic medium was involved and had summoned the dead women during the seance. It transpired that the maid Edith was unwittingly responsible, and with her help Madame Arcati returned both women to the afterlife. At  the end Charles agreed with Madame that going away for a time would be best. As he dressed to leave his home, he mockingly taunted both his wives ghosts as they wrecked havoc on the house.

The play was very funny considering the subject matter and the cast were superb. As they took their bows an appreciative audience clapped loudly and Dame Angela Lansbury got a unanimous standing ovation. Bravo maestro.

Limited season with previews from March 1st. Booking until June 7th.

SOCHI REFLECTIONS

There was far too much sports action going on to keep track of all that was happening. However ten days after the games finished in Sochi, some results and events have obviously made more of an impact on me than others. Here are some of my recollections:-

OLYMPIC RECORD for GB WOMEN’S CURLING TEAM (Bronze Winners)

Eve Muirhead’s team made Olympic history in their 2nd round robin match against the USA. They won this game 12-3 in 6 ends after securing an amazing 7 points in one end. Previously the best score in a single end was six.

MULTIPLE WORLD RECORD’S IN FIGURE SKATING

Pairs Short: Volosohar & Trankov (RUS) 84.17                Men’s Short: Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) 101.45

Ice-Dance Short: Davis & White (USA) 78.89                   Ice-Dance Total: Davis & White (USA) 195.52

Ice-Dance Free: Davis & White (USA 116.63

MOST SUCCESSFUL WINTER OLYMPIAN

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen going into the Sochi Games had 11 Winter Olympic medals (inc. 6 Golds) from 5 previous games. Participating in the gruelling sport of BIATHLON he hoped to equal or better the record of fellow Norwegian Bjorn Daehlie (total 12/8 of them Gold). BJOERNDALEN in his sixth consecutive games succeeded in bettering his countryman’s record by winning Gold in 10km Sprint Biathlon and Gold in the Biathlon Mixed Relay. His tally now reads 13 winter medals/8 of them Gold.

IT’S A FAMILY AFFAIR

Justine Dufour-Lapointe secured Gold (youngest freestyle ski gold) for Canada in the Women’s Moguls ahead of her older sister Chloe who took Silver. Another sister Maxime also took part in the event finishing 12th.

A husband and wife team won Gold and Bronze respectively for Russia in races that took place within minutes of each other. American born Vic Wild won Gold for his adopted country in the Men’s Snowboard Parallel Giant Slalom, while his Russian wife Alena Zavarzina took Bronze in the Women’s event.

In the Men’s 500m Speed Skate the Netherlands Michel Mulder took Gold while his twin brother Ronald Mulder secured the Bronze. Another Dutchman took Silver making it 1-2-3 for the Netherlands.

WOMEN FINALLY GET TO SKI JUMP

At long last Women were allowed to participate in a Ski Jump event and competed on the Normal Hill. An analysis of the men’s and women’s results for the same hill made interesting reading. In the final round from a field of 31 men only 7 jumped 100m or more whilst 4 women out of 30 achieved the same result. But the longest actual distance jumped was 104.5m by Women’s Silver medallist Daniela Iraschko-Stolz of Austria, whilst Kamil Stoch of Poland cleared 103.5m to earn the Men’s Gold for Poland. Of course points from earlier rounds are carried forward and style marks make an impact on the final result as well. But it’s intriguing to compare the two together for fun. Women didn’t take part in the Large Hill or Team events.

HOW A MATTER OF SECONDS/CENTIMETRES CAN CHANGE A RESULT BRINGING ECSTASY OR HEARTACHE

In the Women’s Ice-Hockey final between the USA and Canada, the American’s were 2-1 up with just over a minute to go in regular time. The USA had an open goal at their mercy but the puck hit off the right goalpost. The Canadians scooped up the loose puck, thumped it up field and promptly scored, equalising the game with only 54 Seconds on the clock. The game went into overtime and a golden goal situation. Canada won 3-2 with the player who had scored the equaliser taking the winning shot.

Lizzy Yarnold won Gold for GB in the Women’s Skeleton event by 0.97s. Third and Fourth place were separated by only 0.04s, the difference between a medal and nothing.

GB Short Track Speed Skater Elise Christie had to endure heartbreak in 3 events in Sochi. Looking in fine form she reached the 500m Short Track final but took a tumble with two other skaters. Only the Chinese girl was left unhindered and went on to take an easy Gold. Christie and the others picked themselves up and finished the race with Elise looking to have won Silver. However, she was disqualified for having caused the early race fall. In a second event the 1500m a wary Elise apparently eased into a final spot, crossing the line in a virtual photo-finish. But her skate passed 1cm outside the 1.5m finishing line and she was deemed not to have finished! With a few days to get over her obvious disappointments, Elise Christie harnessing all that untapped potential took part in her favoured event the 1000m. In the semi-finals Elise skated conservatively until almost the end when she moved deftly into a second place spot, only to crash out after a Chinese girl fell and took Elise out. To the commentators surprise Elise was not advanced to the final but penalised along with the Chinese athlete, thus being prevented from even taking part in the B Final.

Japan ski jumper Noriaki Kasai (age 41) won an amazing individual Silver medal in the Large Hill event, and a Bronze team medal on the same hill. Kasai appearing in his 7th consecutive winter games just missed securing gold by 1.3 points (about 75/80cm), which isn’t much when you consider the hill jump category, was 140 metres. Interestingly a ski-jumper is only allowed a minimal amount of bagginess in their clothing (up to 6cm), anymore and they are disqualified for having an unfair “lift” advantage.

INCREDIBLE PHOTO-FINISHES

I was riveted by the Men’s 15km Mass Start Biathlon Final which literally went to the line. Norway’s Emil Helge Svendsen with the line in sight threw up his hands in delight at winning Gold. He was completely unaware that Frenchman Martin Fourcade (looking for a hat-trick of Gold medals in Sochi) was coming up the home straight like an express train. He lunged a ski out as he crossed the line alongside Svendsen. A photo-finish showed that both men posted a time of 42m 29.1s but the ankle of Svendson had crossed the line first with the toe of Fourcade behind.

GB’s snowboarder Zoe Gillings missed out on a place in the main final by the narrowest of margins. In her Women’s Snowboard Cross Semi-final all four racers were involved in photo finishes. Canada’s Maltais was judged 1st alongside Bulgaria’s Jekova whilst Moili took 3rd to Gillings 4th. None of the four athletes were upright when they finished, instead all of them flung their outstretched bodies over the line. Only the first three went into the proper final.

In the first quarter-final of the Men’s Ski Cross only one of the four participants crossed the line standing on their skis. Literally feet away from the finishing line, the two leaders crashed followed by the fourth placed guy as well. The Swiss skier Armin Nieder; (third placed during the falls); negotiated around everyone to cross the line first, whilst the others all skidded toward the finish. Russian Egor Korotkov (travelling head first) stretched his arms out full length to break the line in second place, ensuring qualification for the semis.

1-2-3 for ONE NATION

In the Speed Skating events the NETHERLANDS dominated the results and had a clean sweep of the podium in the Women’s 1500m & Men’s 5000m and 500m finals. In fact in the Women’s 1500m it was the first time in Winter Olympic history the top four positions were taken by one country.

In the Olympic debut event of Men’s Ski Slopestyle Team USA swept the podium. Joss Christensen took Gold ahead of his team mates Gus Kenworthy and Nicholas Goepper. Only twice before (56-Men’s figure skating & 2002 Men’s Snowboard Halfpipe) have the USA dominated in this way.

FRANCE (for only the second time ever in their Winter Olympic history) filled the podium in the Men’s Ski Cross event. Jean Frederic Chapuis won Gold, Arnaud Bovolenta took Silver and Jonathan Midol slid over the line on his bottom to secure Bronze. After the event a protest was lodged by Canada & Slovenia against the results, as they felt Team France had violated the dress code using “baggier” clothing. This would have given them potentially more aero-dynamic runs, but the results stand.

In the Women’s 30 km Mass Start Cross Country (Free) event NORWAY filled the podium when Marit Bjoergen won Gold equalling the all time record for a Female Winter Olympian. It was her tenth medal in total with 6 being Gold, and Sochi brought 3 of them.

In the Men’s 50km Mass Start Cross Country (Free) event RUSSIA filled the podium with Alexander Legkov securing Gold and his fellow team-mates Maxim Vylegzhanin winning Silver and Ilia Chernousov Bronze.

SOCHI A GLOBAL PHENOMENA

The Sochi games have by far been the most extensively covered Winter Olympics of all time. Around 240 TV channels worldwide covered the last games from Vancouver, this time it was believed to be 464. Together with online footage being available, websites, apps and other digital platforms such as social media offering opinions on all the action, it was a global sensation.

The Ladies Figure Skating Individual Gold medal was won by Russia with the much fancied South Korean taking Silver. Consternation at this outcome went worldwide, and within 24 hours of the final result being announced 1.74 million signatories were on a petition demanding an inquiry.

Unfortunately not all social media interactions are supportive of the athletes. Elise Christie closed her Twitter account having suffered online bullying after her first event.

A spoof video of a “wolf roaming through the athlete’s accommodation” went viral after being posted on the web. The footage was supposedly shot by a Team USA luger Kate Hansen in Sochi. However the video was filmed in the ABC studios and was the brain-child of American comedian Jimmy Kimmel.

OUT OF THIS WORLD

I read a report on the BBC that medal winners on the 15th of February would have a medal with a difference. On this date last year news reports around the world showed the Chelyabinsk meteorite streaking across Russian skies. It ended its journey in the Russian lake known as Chebarkul, and the meteorite was recovered from there in October 2013. The ten Gold medallists from the anniversary date will receive an additional medal embedded with small fragments of the “out of this world space rock”.

SOCHI FIGURE SKATING: INDIVIDUAL MEDAL RESULTS

PAIRS: Russian Strength Dominates

In Sochi the outstanding masquerade waltz short program from the Russian Pair Volosozhar & Trankov (1st) was sheer classic perfection. But I preferred the more fun/modern short routine of the German couple Savchenko & Szolkowy who performed to music from the Pink Panther, dressed as the Panther and a policeman respectively. I also enjoyed the brightly clad Canadian Pair Moore-Towers & Moscovich, who performed superbly in their free program scoring 202.18 for overall 6th place. My preference in the free program gravitated more toward the lower end of the spectrum. I loved the Italian Pair Berton & Hotarek performance to the Philip Glass soundtrack Dracula (overall 11th). The complete package just fitted them so well I thought. The American Pair Castelli & Shnapir (overall 9th) almost made history by pulling off a throw quadruple Salchow during their Skyfall routine. Castelli landed two-footed although credit was given in the technical marks. But all eyes were on the top four from the short program for medal contenders. All of them were first time viewing for me as I had missed them during the team event, and I was in for a treat. The German Pair Savchenko & Szolkowy in second place after the short program had falls at the start and end of their free routine, won Bronze with 215.78. Mother Russia took Silver with 218.68 through Stolbova & Klimov performing to The Adams Family music, and Gold with 236.86 from Volosozhar & Trankov performing to Jesus Christ Superstar. The Chinese Pair Qing & Jian put in a solid performance to score 209.98 placing 4th in their last skating season.

MEN: World Record Helps Secure Japan Gold

Drama unfolded in the Men’s individual event when Russian Evgeni Pluschenko pulled up injured in his warm-up and retired from the competition. This resulted in Russia’s only chance of a medal in this event being dashed. Japan’s 19 year old Yuzuru Hanyu made history by scoring the first ever plus 100 marks in the short program (101.45). Having only recently burst onto the international scene Hanyu proved to be the main threat to Canada’s Patrick Chan. In the short program Chan took second with 97.52 whilst Spain’s Javier Hernandez placed third with 86.98. This left the interesting prospect of an Asian, Canadian or Spaniard being within touching distance of the Individual Men’s Gold medal, a feat never seen before. However, anything can happen in the free program, and further drama played out before the Gold medal was awarded. Team USA’s Jeremy Abbott performed a lovely flawless routine to Exogenesis by Muse, scoring a season’s best of 160.12 which earned him 8th in the free program ranking. But having suffered a horrendous fall in the short program (15th), could only manage 12th overall with a score of 232.70. Germany’s Peter Liebers 5th after the short program failed to land his first quadruple jump, thwarting his chance of making the podium, ended up 8th overall (239.87). Other skaters produced errors in their routines including Yuzuru Hanyu, who fell in his first quad and faltered in a triple move as well. His free program scored 178.64 well below his plus 193 season’s best, but his overall tally was 280.09 enough for Japan Gold. A nervous looking Patrick Chan didn’t manage a flawless performance either and secured Silver for Canada with a score of 275.62. But the surprise Bronze medallist was Kazakhstan’s Denis Ten who put in a solid, well executed, flawless routine to move from 9th to 3rd overall with a score of 255.10. This happy ending for Ten was made all the more sweet, having endured an injury blighted season with skin, back and ankle problems. Going into the free program less than nine points separated Ten in 9th from Javier Hernandez in third, but the Spaniard ended 4th overall (253.92) in the competition. A special mention should also go to Michael Christian Martinez the only Filipino at the Games, and the first to compete in the Men’s Individual who placed 19th overall (184.25). He looks to have a promising future ahead of him judging by his assured performance.

 

ICE-DANCE: The Only Question-Who Will Get Bronze?

Before the competition started it seemed everyone had already crowned the American couple Meryl Davis & Charlie White as champions, with the Canadian couple Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir coming a close second. With each couple performing true to form and expectation, the true battle rested with the fight for third place.

Having missed seeing the Ice-Dance short program in the team event, I was interested to find out how the more compulsory elements would be interpreted, and delighted in hearing lots of vocals in the music. Great Britain’s Penny Coombes & Nick Buckland received a very disappointing score of 59.33 leaving them 11th going into the free program.  After the team event they subtly changed their short routine in an attempt to better their scores, but still found no favour with the judges. Their free program dancing to a Michael Jackson medley (91.78) was well received by the audience, but a final score of 151.11 left them 10th overall. Coombes & Buckland’s experience in Sochi highlighted perfectly, how subjective figure skating is as a sport. No two competitions can expect the same kind of judging, and the British couple with the same routines won Bronze last month in the Europeans. Other lower ranking couples who impressed with their free programs included Guignard & Fabri of Italy (86.64) and Hurtado & Diaz of Spain (88.39). Both performed to music associated with their nationality, the Italians moving beautifully to Romeo & Juliet and the Spaniards inhabiting the Surviving Picasso Soundtrack.

Meryl Davis & Charlie White never put a foot wrong to win Gold for Team USA, having come first in both the short and free programs. They scored a season’s best with 116.63 in the free to obtain an unassailable 195.52 lead score. Routines showed a combination of quick, dynamic, strong, faster movements and more fluid lines, whereas the Canadian couple Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir who took Silver with 190.99 emulated more elegance, class and style in very precise routines. They also scored a free program season’s best with 114.66, which is all you can ask of an athlete.

The real competition however was between the two Russian couples for third place. Bobrova & Stoloviev (5th overall 172.92) also received a season’s best score of 102.95 for their intriguing “vice-versa” free routine, which saw the personas of the couple switch mid routine. It was fascinating to watch and utterly compelling. Ilinykh and Katsalapov performed a very dramatic Black Swan free program that had both modern panache and old school Russian classic lines within. With an overall score of 183.48 they took Bronze for Russia.

WOMEN: RUSSIA SECURES A FIRST GOLD MEDAL IN WOMEN’S FIGURE SKATING

The “darling” of the Russian team skate Julia Lipnitskaya fell in both her short and free programs putting her out of medal contention. However, her compatriot Adelina Sotnikova who had yet to compete in the Sochi Games shone. Her short program was technically accomplished and scored 74.64 just fractionally behind the Olympic champion of 2010 Kim Yuna (74.92). Going into the free program Italian Carolina Kostner was third (74.12), and barring a fall in the free skate it was expected that these positions would remain unchanged. Kostner performed a lovely free routine to Ravel’s Bolero scoring 142.61 to secure Bronze for Italy (216.73). Adelina Sotnikova put in an electrifying free program gathering 149.95 points with 7 jump sequences/4 in combination. Last skater South Korean Kim Yuna put in a flawless graceful routine, which TV commentators stated was an obvious Gold medal winning performance. How wrong they were, because Yuna scored 144.19 for her free program; (losing 6 technical points to Sotnikova who performed more jump combinations); and only had enough (219.11) to secure Silver for South Korea. To the obvious delight of the home crowd the ecstatic 17 year old Adelina Sotnikova took Gold for Russia with 224.59 points. She became the first ever Russian Olympic female individual figure skating Gold medallist, and having been overlooked in favour of Julia in the team event, Adelina’s success must have tasted sweet.

TEAM SKATING TAKES A BOW IN SOCHI

Before the official opening ceremony took place in Sochi on February 7th the inaugural team figure skating program had already began. This was a much anticipated event for me, as it was a chance to see all four skating disciplines together as one entity. With both short and free programs for the men’s and ladies singles, pairs and ice-dance all included, the countries with a strength of depth would always do very well. Each country had the opportunity to switch a maximum of two performers over all four disciplines. This meant that the perceived “strongest” contenders for the short/free programs could be used by each nation (within reason). However nations with a weaker skating heritage (GB) had to rely on their sole representatives in each discipline covering both the short and free sections.

Results would be given a points allocation, with the highest score receiving 10 points down to the lowest receiving 1 point. Medals would be awarded to the nations with the highest amount of points accumulated.

OVERALL TEAM FIGURE SKATING RESULTS

Gold RUSSIA (75pts): Silver CANADA (65pts): Bronze USA (60pts)

Team Figure Skating Individual Section Winners

PAIRS: Short Program: TATIANA VOLOSOZHAR & MAXIM TRANKOV (Russia)

PAIRS: Free Program: KSENIA STOLBOVA & FEDOR KLIMOV (Russia)

LADIES: Short Program: JULIA LIPNITSKAIA (Russia)

LADIES: Free Program: JULIA LIPNITSKAIA (Russia)

MENS: Short Program: YUZURU HANYU (Japan)

MENS: Free Program: EVGENI PLUSHENKO (Russia)

ICE DANCE: Short Program: MERYL DAVIS & CHARLIE WHITE (USA)

ICE DANCE: Free Program: MERYL DAVIS & CHARLIE WHITE (USA)

From a personal point of view it was a joy to see Evgeni Plushenko skate in his home Olympics. Being an elder statesman on the rink at the age of 31, I remember him bursting onto the scene as a precocious teenager full of talent. This could be said about his young compatriot Julia Lipnitskaia aged 15 who was electrifying performing to music from the film Schindler’s List. It was not lost on me young Julia wearing a vivid red dress, replicating the red coat emblem in the movie. A youngster standing out from the crowd with all that vulnerability. Brilliant though Julia is, I can’t help but wonder, if her childhood has been somewhat sacrificed for the sake of skating glory. Perhaps the same could be said about Evgeni too, because his injury ravaged body today, may well be the result of over work when a youngster.

MY WINTER SPORT “ARTISTIC” PREFERENCES

The BBC TV program “Ski Sunday” introduced me (as a child) to the thrills and spills of downhill skiing, and ski-jumping. Later on I would discover freestyle skiing and snowboarding. And ever since I witnessed John Curry take the Men’s Individual Gold in 1976, I have adored watching figure skating. With the exception of skiing with its “fastest” winner takes all approach, all of the disciplines I enjoy watching have an element of artistry involved in deciding a winner. Ski-jumping not only involves distance jumped but has a style component built in as well. Ice-skating is a subjective sport as a whole, as are the newer ski sports of snowboarding (half-pipe, slopestyle) and freestyle skiing (moguls, slopestyle). But snowboard cross manages to replicate the thrills of downhill skiing, with as much drama occurring before the first past the post winner is crowned.

Not for me the long arduous endurance events, or the frantic pace of ice-hockey on the rink. I’ve grown to very much enjoy the sedate but cut-throat world of “Chess on Ice” otherwise known as Curling. Who can forget Rhona’s last stone going “centre of the house” to secure Gold in 2002? I’m also quite fond of the luge and skeleton events which although based on a cumulative time score, does in my opinion, have an artistic quality to it. The luge gloves with their sewn in mini spikes to help give purchase on the ice, are a work of art in themselves. From a paddle start in luge, an athlete lies flat on their back travelling feet first down a meandering bank of ice. In skeleton a running start has the athlete hurtling head-first down the same course. Effectively both are performing on something akin to an over large tea-tray with skate blades. To do this convincingly has to be an artistic endeavour at least-and a very brave one too. Lizzie Yarnold took Gold in the Women’s Skeleton to win GB’s second medal of the games.

So during the first few days of competition in Sochi I’ve enjoyed the spectacle of my artistic sporting events. The Figure Skating Team competition began on Day minus one and ended on Day Two, with Russia victorious. It was nice to see some camaraderie in the figure skating for a change, as it’s normally such an insular sport. I’ve also delighted in witnessing the sheer exuberance, freedom of expression and friendly relaxed nature of the newer Olympic sports as well. Snowboarders seem to combine the balance of a skateboarder with the dexterity of a gymnast. Jenny Jones a pioneer of her sport here in Great Britain won our first ever medal on snow/in Sochi.  She took Bronze in the Snowboarding Woman’s Slopestyle Final, a new Olympic event. Women’s Ski-jumping (normal hill) also made its debut and Carina Vogt of Germany with a score of 247.4 took Gold.

Intriguingly knitting made an unexpected debut in the Olympics, making a striking appearance in the starting gates of both Snowboarding Slopestyle finals. A volunteer could clearly be seen holding a pair of knitting needles with the beginnings of a potential scarf on them. How on earth did they get through security I wonder? Another unexpected viewing has been the pre-opening ceremony entertainment, when The Ministry of Internal Affairs Choir performed Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. In formal military style uniforms these guys “let loose” with gusto, (Russian style), and it was a sight to behold. Seems their rendition has proved very popular on the internet, though it remains to be seen if this new found popularity, will be enough to land them a berth in the official closing ceremony.

LET’S TALK BOLERO AND DANCE WITH TORVILL and DEAN

On St Valentine’s Day (February 14th) 1984 a British TV audience of 24 million people held its collective breath, as Jayne Torvill & Christopher Dean took to the ice in Sarajevo. They were about to perform their iconic Bolero ice-dance routine in their quest to win Olympic Gold. When the performance scores were returned, Jayne and Christopher had spectacularly succeeded in achieving their goal, and in doing so created a little bit of sporting history as well. So where did it all begin?

The golden partnership of Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean began in 1975, a year before Ice-Dance skating was introduced as an Olympic sport. At the 1980 Olympics held in Lake Placid New York, Torvill & Dean placed 5th,an amazing result considering they only skated part-time. Possibly sensing the chance of future greatness, Jayne (an insurance clerk) and Chris (a policeman), gave up their day jobs to concentrate full-time on skating. From 1981-1984 they were World Champions, and only injury in 1983 prevented a clean sweep of European titles as well.

It was customary to perform ice-dance routines to a medley of music within a certain time frame. In 1982 Jayne & Chris (in gold outfits) danced to music from Mack & Mabel, and in 1983 (wearing white) they performed a circus based routine inspired by Barnum. Then the 84 season beckoned and Torvill & Dean went for something radically different. Instead of a medley they would perform to a solitary piece of music, which would gradually build to a crescendo finale. The music they chose was Ravel’s Bolero (originally a ballet score) with an unvarying rhythm and repetitive theme, and with an unaltered length of about 18 minutes!!! How on earth could Jayne & Chris translate this somewhat monotonous work, into a short spine tingling performance that would enchant the world?

Firstly the length of the music had to be significantly reduced to a manageable length, that didn’t diminish the overall power of the work. Some brilliant editing brought Bolero down to just over 4 minutes in length whilst still maintaining its integrity. Still just a little too long for use in competition; 4m 28s as opposed to 4m 10s; some clever choreography was required to make the music viable. By beginning the routine on their knees, Jayne & Chris could incorporate some intricate moves and count down the extra seconds of music. Only when the skating began would the routine officially be timed. Genius in my opinion, and Torvill & Dean’s precision dyed purple outfits ensured every move was accentuated, to the point where their two bodies became one. Portraying a story of lovers unable to be together (like Romeo & Juliet), the routine culminated with them climbing a volcano and throwing themselves into it, thus ensuring being together forever. The overall effect was mesmerising, enchanting and thrilling all at once. I admit though it took a while for me to become so enamoured by Bolero, I think because it was just so radically different. But by the time of the Olympics I knew every nuance of the routine. During the Sarajevo performance for a split second my heart was in my mouth. Had Jayne’s back/shoulder fleetingly touched the ice when it shouldn’t have? I remember at the time the TV commentator had the same thought as me, and then mentioned something about the camera angle being different for the judges. When the results were announced Torvill & Dean swept the board with nine perfect 6.0 scores for artistic impression. I need not have worried; my sporting heroes with a total of twelve 6.0 scores (from 18) had struck Gold.

After the Olympics Jayne and Chris turned professional and toured the world with their unique brand of entertainment. I remember a TV special called Fire & Ice which was just wonderful, and I was enthralled by their “live” shows which I delighted in attending. By 1994 however a change in rules meant that Torvill & Dean although professional, could return to “amateur” competitive skating. With the Lillehammer Games in Norway beckoning Jayne & Chris returned to the Olympic arena. Once again I took a little while to warm to their new routine Let’s Face the Music and Dance, which seemed very classic in style to me but somewhat devoid of the usual “flamboyant” air I expected from them. It seemed that the rules being used by the skating authorities at the time, showed a preference for technical clean lines as opposed to individual flair. So with this understanding Torvill & Dean went to the European championships in January of 1994. They won the event but only very narrowly, and perhaps a little shaken by this, undertook a revamp of their routine adding some trickery and pizzazz before the Olympics in February. The new version of Let’s Face the Music was Torvill & Dean at their very best. Again their performance was spell-binding, but when the results came up they had only done enough to win Bronze. It appeared some of the judges felt an illegal lift had been incorporated into the revamped routine, and so marked them down accordingly, although more harshly than was required. However, Torvill & Dean were far too diligent to their craft to have made such a fundamental error. At the time, and to this day even, I think Torvill & Dean were robbed of a second gold medal. The subjective nature of the sport makes it difficult to ensure that the interpretation of the rules remains constant for every competition. It would seem that had Jayne and Chris left their Let’s Face the Music routine as it was in the Europeans, they would have had a better chance of a higher placed medal in Lillehammer. But I can’t help but think that a bit of snobbery toward “professionals” returning to competition played a part as well.

Once again Torvill & Dean returned to the professional circuit until in 1998 without fanfare they quietly hung up their skates. That may well have been the end of the story, but celebrity/reality TV shows had gathered popularity during Jayne and Chris’s retirement. So in 2006 to my utter delight, Torvill & Dean returned to the world of performance through Dancing on Ice. Once again a TV audience could witness the sheer mastery, genius and beauty of Torvill & Dean, albeit mainly through the choreography & teaching used by them with celebrity non skaters. The couple have performed special routines throughout the series, and a recent performance to The Beatles In My Life was an emotional viewing. Seeing their effortless unified synchronicity, in a performance with little T n D signature moves throughout was, as always, just a joy to behold.

2014 brings the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and our ice-dance stars this time around are Penny Coomes & Nick Buckland. Just getting to these Games is such an achievement for this young couple, as Nick underwent heart surgery in October having been diagnosed with tachycardia (exceptionally high heartbeat). In January they won Bronze at the European Championships, but will face tough competition in Sochi from the USA, Canada and Japan.

But for Torvill & Dean 2014 brings the last series of Dancing on Ice and the 30th Anniversary of Bolero. Through them, I gained a deep love and a better appreciation and understanding for a truly wonderful sporting art form. So, Jayne & Chris, happy anniversary, thank you so much for all the memories. It’s been a blast!