The names Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean are known the world over.
Ask anyone, from the deserts of Sudan to the forests of Bhutan, who they are and they will instantly know that Torvill and Dean were responsible for the finest moment in ice dancing history.
Their Bolero routine at the 1984 Sarajevo Games has yet to be surpassed. It was beautiful, moving, and technically flawless. It was perfection on ice.
But it wasn’t sport.
And it should never have earned an Olympic gold medal.
Ice dancing is one of those activities that’s difficult to classify. It sneaks in under the broad umbrella of figure skating—itself, a fairly dubious sport—but has none of the technical difficulty.
That’s not to say that it’s easy; it requires huge amounts of athletic ability, but so does ditch digging and that’s not a sport. It’s probably an art-form but it’s definitely not a sport.
How do I know that it isn’t a sport?
Simple. There is a quick and easy test that anyone can do to tell if something is a sport or if it's something else. If it requires sequins, it isn’t a sport. End of story.
Ice dancing, like all forms of figure skating, is forever mired in controversy. The incredibly subjective nature of the judging makes for surprising, and often questionable, results.
It is not unheard of for international cooperation and/or rivalries to have as much influence over the judging as what happens on the ice. It isn’t restricted to ice dancing—it’s a problem in figure skating as well—but it does seem that this is the most subjective of the disciplines.
There are, of course, other sports that require the input of judges—freestyle skiing, for example, which has raised some eyebrows in these games—but somehow they don’t garner the same attention for dodgy decisions. If you Google “ice dancing controversy” it returns 171,000 results—and that’s probably just for this week in Vancouver.
The controversy even started before the competition began. The Russian dancers are apparently going to perform a piece inspired by traditional dance of indigenous Australians—replete with loin cloths and eucalyptus leaves—when they take to the rink for their original dance program.
Aboriginal elders are crying foul, calling it cultural theft. I challenge anyone to name any sport where the costume or content can be classified as cultural theft.
We don’t have ballroom dancing in the Summer Games and simply doing it on ice doesn’t justify its inclusion in the Winter Games.
If the addition of ice was the only requirement, then I propose Olympic Margarita making at the Sochi Games in 2014—I’ll even judge it for free!