If ice dancing were judged by an applause meter, two Canadians would have won Winter Olympics gold medals Tuesday night. That might not seem so unusual considering that the competition was held in front of a highly partisan Canadian crowd at the Saddledome except that the pair was skating for France.
In a discipline that almost never provides surprises, the three pairs that were supposed to win medals did. The Soviet Union had the champions, Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin, and the runners-up, Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko. Two Canadians who actually skate for Canada, Tracy Wilson and Robert McCall, were third.
But the Canadians who brought the 19,000 spectators to their feet were Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay, who were raised in Aylmer, Quebec, but have been training in Germany for the last six years and skate for France. He was born in France, as were their parents, and the two skaters have dual citizenship. Paul is 26, Isabelle 24.
In terms of creativity, they started where the 1984 Olympic champions, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean of Great Britain, left off. It will suprise no one who has seen the 4 1/2-minute long program that the Duchesnays performed Tuesday night that Dean choreographed it. Dressed in black and gold jungle costumes, they skated to the African rhythms of "War Dance" and "Kiss of Death."
Not all of the judges, who are more comfortable with the Viennese Waltz, knew how to take it. For technical merit, their scores ranged from 5.2 to 5.7 out of a possible 6.0. For artistic impression, their scores ranged from 5.0 to 5.8. They finished in eighth place.
"We're there to skate," Paul said. "As for the marks, you have to ask the judges."
One U.S. couple, Suzanne Semanick and Scott Gregory, finished sixth, while the other, Susan Wynne and Joseph Druar, finished 11th.
Wynne was impressed with the Duchesnays, saying she and her partner are going to return home and begin working on a more creative program.
"Their program was innovative and different," she said. "We've already started discussing which way we would like to see ice dancing go. I feel we're a little more brave now. We're not going to be so afraid of the rules and the opinions of the judges. We're going to be braver and more innovative."
But the University of Delaware Skate Club's Ron Ludington, who coaches Semanick and Gregory, said that ice dancing might not be going the way of the Duchesnays and asked for a clearer interpretation of the rules.
"Torvill and Dean never lived by the rules," he said. "They just broke them. But they are the best skaters who ever lived. No one wanted to deny them their medals. When they retired, the judges were supposed to get stricter.
"I have to go back to the United States and do judging schools and tell everyone to obey the rules. Then they look at something like this, and they're confused. In order to be innovative, the French couple had to break the rules."
Ludington detailed several violations by the Duchesnays, including lifts that were too high and unconventional dance holds.
Isabelle Duchesnay said their program was cleared by judges before the European championships last month in Prague, where they finished third.
"We checked that ourselves," she said. "We feel all the moves we do are within the rules."
Some judges Tuesday night apparently felt otherwise.