CALGARY, FEB. 23 -- Ice dancing at the Winter Olympics moved from deepest Africa to the Soviet Union, but the placings moved not at all tonight. The medals could have been given before the free skating ever began, as reigning world champions Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin won the gold at the Saddledome, while an unrecognized French pair defied the rules of the sport.
The Soviet team of "B&B" as they are called, received solid 5.9s and three perfect 6.0s to win the gold medal in their second Olympic attempt. Four years ago, they were relegated to the silver by Great Britain's Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean.
Their heavy, angst-ridden Soviet dance was the most imposing of the evening, if not the crowd favorite, and the West German judge gave it just 5.5 for presentation. But they were still invulnerable, as fellow Soviets Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko won the silver with their Muzak version of Beatles classics, and Canadians Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall took the bronze to Scott Joplin's ragtime.
"What difference does it make what the marks were when we won, anyway?" Bestemianova said.
Critics of ice dancing complain that the outcome seems to be predetermined, with intractable judging and little opportunity for surprise victories or placings. No one illustrated that more than the sensationally controversial Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay of France, a pair choreographed by Dean. They brought down the house with their innovative "Savage Rite" in deerskin and gold lame, but finished in eighth place.
"We're going to stick with it because this is what we want to do," said Isabelle Duchesnay, 24. "I'd rather have the audience with me than get marks that aren't right."
In fact, from Sunday's compulsory dances through tonight's four-minute dances worth 50 percent of the score, there was just one minor change in the field. That came when the 14th and 15th couples traded places in the standings. Minus retirees Torvill and Dean, the first two medalists finished in exactly the same order as they did in Sarajevo.
The top U.S. pair of Suzanne Semanick and Scott Gregory skated a clean, classical routine to finish in sixth place, good considering he was still recovering from a ruptured disc in his back suffered two months ago. They were hurt in the compulsories when she fell during a waltz, and could not move up with scores of 5.4 to 5.7 for technical merit, and 5.5s and 5.7s for presentation.
"We went for broke," Semanick said. "We just said to ourselves that we had nothing to lose and everything to gain."
The rules of ice dancing can sound like an old Hollywood morals code: no movement may be performed that can't be done on a dance floor, and he must have one foot on the ice at all times. But the Duchesnays were an indication that the judges may not be in agreement as to just what constitutes this event.
The brother and sister team originally from Quebec challenged all preconceived notions, much as the stunning pair from Great Britain did four years ago when they received 12 perfect 6.0s for their sexy "Bolero." The Duchesnays went around, under and over each other, rarely moving out of a jungle crouch, and were much admired for it by everyone but a few judges. Their marks varied from 5.2 to 5.7 on technical merit and from 5.0 to 5.8 for presentation.
"Sure we'd like to do that, but we'd get our heads chopped off," said Semanick and Gregory's coach, Ron Luddington. " . . . I think we'd better take a close look and open the rules up to be more creative, because the audience certainly wants it."
The Duchesnays' effect on future ice dancing is uncertain, but according to coaches tonight, they are as good for the sport as Torvill and Dean were. Their association with Dean may have worked against them, however. There was clearly a move on the part of the judging community after 1984 to return the sport to more conventional ballroom dancing, but it may be changing yet again.