Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RAVES!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 09/07/08

Dancing On A Knife-Edge

(Thinking up titles for these pieces is more difficult than writing the pieces themselves, I swear)

There are moments - rare by their very nature - where sport, however you care to define the term, comes close to the beauty usually associated with art.

In the days in which the 'hard men' were deemed to rule the world of football, for example, there was the guile, poise and instinct of George Best, the most talented player ever seen in the English game (seen here scoring six goals against Northampton Town in 1970):

It needn't be pretty, however. Here's Ian Botham putting the Australian attack to the sword in that remarkable turnaround at Headingley in 1981:

(Update: this clip replaces the original one, which the pussies at YouTube pulled)

Even that ballet of beef known as Rugby Union has known its moments, few more famous than that remarkable try by the Barbarians against New Zealand at the old Arms Park, Cardiff in 1973:

Sometimes, however, art itself is forced to doff its cap. I relived such a moment last night. In an access of boredom, I thought back nearly a quarter of a century.

The place: Sarajevo, in what was then Yugoslavia. The occasion: the 1984 Winter Olympics.

It's the Ice Dance competition, and the final, free dance, section.

Competing for Great Britain (a country not renowned for its prowess in ice and snow - hell, its transport network comes to a complete halt after half an inch of sleet) are an ex-Policeman and a former insurance clerk, both from Nottingham - a town as synonymous with aesthetic qualities as Beijing is with environmental purity.

Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean were leading going into the section, but the competition was strong and they needed something special to make sure of the gold.

They had devised a routine based on an edited version of Ravel's Boléro. The story was that of star-crossed young lovers, climbing a volcano to throw themselves over the lip into the fires within.

The performers came out onto the ice and knelt facing one another in the centre of the rink. The familiar tom-ticketa-tom-ticketa-tom-tom of Ravel's music began.

At this point, something happened. A doorway opened into some other world - one where the abstract notions of art and beauty took on a tangible, physical form - and two seemingly unprepossessing people led us through that portal and allowed us to inhabit a time and space in which what was was what should be.

Our visit was, inevitably, brief; some experiences are too intense to last, otherwise they would overwhelm us. Imagine being held in a state of orgasm for a whole hour at a stretch, for example; we would be annihilated by the experience.

Scarcely four and a half minutes later, it was over. The artists (for such they had truly proven themselves to be) lay upon the ice. The tormented lovers had achieved their quietus in the flames, forever at one with each other and with the very matter of their world.

We the watchers, the visitors, had achieved our own resolution. We had been taken, we had been in some way transformed.

The earthbound question of the points to be awarded didn't matter very much. There could only be one possible result, and so it proved. But the gold was not in the medals - they might as well have been recycled baked-bean tins for all it really mattered - it was in the moment itself, in the thread which for an instant of time tied the millions watching around this small planet into a conspiracy of wonder. A reminder that, for all our obvious faults, humankind - by dint of imagination and effort - can become greater than the mere sum of our parts, and can reach out and transcend ourselves and our surroundings.

Watch again, as I have. Perhaps you will weep, as I have. I hope you will marvel, as I still do.