The figure skating torch finally passed to Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini last week with the complete approval of those who bore it.
The five-time Canadian champions managed one of the sport’s greatest comebacks when they recovered from a seventh-place finish at the Sarajevo Winter Olympics to capture the world figure skating pairs championship before a patriotic audience at Ottawa’s Civic Centre. Six other Canadians who won world gold medals during the past 60 years of competition were on hand to applaud their achievement.
Later, Canada’s Brian Orser, a silver medallist at Sarajevo, finished second behind fourtime world champion and Sarajevo gold medallist Scott Hamilton of the United States in the men’s singles. East Germany’s graceful Katarina Witt led the ladies’ competition from beginning to end. And so did the wonderful dance duet of Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, who won all three events and claimed an unprecedented perfect score from all nine judges in two programs.
For Canadians, Martini and Underhill’s stunning victory -
was the highlight of the six-day event. It marked the first time a Canadian skater has won a gold medal in Canada since Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul’s triumph in Vancouver in 1960. It was also the first time that the Ontario pair competed for an international prize in Canada.
Said Martini: “That
made it very nerve-racking for us. It was like we had something to prove to Canadians.”
And prove it they did.
Martini and Underhill, skating second-last in the group of 10 pairs, lifted the cheering crowd to its feet for the final 30 seconds of the program, when it was clear that the two were going to
win the gold. With a brilliant performance, the Canadian pair defeated Olympic and defending world champions Elena Valova and Oleg Vasiliev of the Soviet Union, who led after their short program two days earlier. The Soviet
skaters won the silver medal, and 1982 world champions Sabine Baess and Tassilo Thierbach of East Germany placed third. Another Canadian pair, Katherina Matousek and Lloyd Eisler, were a strong fifth and showed every sign of replacing Underhill and Martini in the amateur sweepstakes when they turn pro, which may be within a month.
The Canadian drama almost did not take to the ice. Two weeks before their ascent to the top of the skating world, Martini and Underhill were dangerously close to quitting the sport. They missed much of the skating season because of Underhill’s injuries—a shoulder separation in August and a torn ankle ligament in January—and then a disastrous fall in Sarajevo
caused them to finish seventh at the February Olympics. After the stunning win, Martini recalled just how close the
pair came to quitting the sport for which they had trained for
years to master. “We were sit-
ting there with [coach] Louis Stong, and four skates were at Barb’s feet,” he said. “Nothing was going right, and neither Barb’s old boots nor her new ones seemed to work for her.” Stong was on the verge of advising the pair not to
compete in Ottawa. But before he did, Stong was called away to the telephone. Said Underhill: “While he was on the phone I went out with Paul and tried my old boots again. And we decided to stay in it.”
The comfort of the old boots helped Underhill to turn in a dazzling program which included two perfect death spirals, a brilliant throw double axel (the move in which Underhill had hurt herself in January) and a gravity-defying overhead lift in which Martini balanced Underhill in the air upside down. Like Torvill and Dean, Canada’s glamor pair are sure to land on their feet when they turn professional. &t;%>
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