The judges, of course, find such shenanigans impossible to mark. However, the mothers, and some fathers, dutifully take down all the marks and carefully work out their children's relative positions. Of those taking part in these events are merely fulfilling the frustrated dreams of their parents who stand at the side of the rink shouting encouragement and criticism to their overdressed and overcoiffured progeny. Nevertheless the youngsters sometimes rebel, refuse to skate, and burst into tears. And heaven help the trainer whose pupil did not finish as high as expected. He will be required to explain exactly why.
The pressure that the East Germans put on their promising skaters is as bad as that applied by pushy stage parents in the West. Because the East Germans stress the athletic approach, with much attention paid to triple jumps often at the expense of gracefulness, they suffer a large number of accidents and an early burnout rate. Their officials try to encourage top-level competitors to carry on, even though they have often expressed the desire to retire. Anett Poetzsch, who underwent a knee cartilage operation after she had regained her World title in 1980, did not wish to continue competing. However, she was entered, and then withdrawn, from the 1981 European Championship. The same thing happened before the World Championship. Finally, a few hours after the East German officials had left the country for Hartford in the United States where the World Championships were to be held, Poetzsch declared publicly that she had retired.
Jan Hoffmann, winner of the 1974 World Championship, was a little more pliant. A knee cartilage operation forced him to sit out the 1975 season but, although he wanted to retire to concentrate on his studies to become a doctor, he was persuaded to remain in the sport. He did not do well in the 1976 Olympic Games, but went on to win a silver medal in 1980. A few weeks later, in the World Championship, he had the satisfaction of beating his Olympic victor, Robin Cousins.
The Russians, having more facilities for youngsters than the East Germans, are not forced to start their training programme so early. When the Protopopovs began skating there was only one indoor rink in the whole of the USSR, then still recovering from the devastation of the Second World War. Today, in their former home town of Leningrad, there is a magnificent three-rink training complex, and skaters are produced as well at centres other than Moscow and Leningrad; the most famous being Sverdlovsk.
Stanislav Zhuks recent sacking was a milestone in Russian skating history. He was in at the start of the Soviet race for domination in pair skating, producing Rodnina and Ulanov and, when she turned to an easier disciplinarian for guidance, engineering the one-and-a-half pairs (tiny girls matched with fully grown partners) who altered the whole aspect of that event. He then directed the careers of leading singles skaters, including Elena Vodorezova and Alexander Fadeev. His dismissal demonstrates that the Soviets not only have depth in the number of competitors in all four disciplines, but also of coaches. They have reached the stage where they can afford to sweep one of their members under the carpet without worrying about resulting effects. Their country has come a long way in a relatively short time. They won t relinquish this position without a strong fight and if other countries are to gain the top spots, they will have to increase their devotion to training and their efforts to attract youngsters into the sport.
Indoor rinks in the USSR are the exclusive preserve of ice hockey players and competitive figure skaters. In the West it is the recreational skaters, taking part in the activity for pleasure, who pay for the maintenance of the rinks. Recessions, and escalating fuel costs, have caused many to close, among them the famous Santa Monica Chalet in California where John Nicks used to teach many top Americans, including the 1979 World pair champions, Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner. The East German and USSR systems may have their advantages but, all the same, the freer rein given to Western skaters allows individual talent to break through. Though the Russians have consulted the principal dance choreographers in their country, none has been able to produce a routine such as that shown by John Curry in the 1976 season, or the Mack and Mabel programme with which Torvill and Dean delighted audiences.