Winter Olympics: Meet the international figure skating judge from Clondalkin
Ever since Dubliner Odhrán Allen watched Torvill and Dean winning gold in 1984, he was hooked on ice-skating
Torvill and Dean performing to Bolero in 1984
“I am an asthmatic, I grew up in Clondalkin [in Dublin], I knew nothing of this world, but when I saw Torvill and Dean on TV winning their gold medal to Bolero, it was like a magical moment.”
Odhrán Allen steps off the ice, removes his boots and arctic parka hat and puts away his clipboard. It’s 10am on a Sunday in Blanchardstown; he has just completed a two hour assessment of novice skaters on the large temporary ice rink. It’s freezing.
“I’m really not an early morning person but I just love my figure skating,” he says.
I am disappointed he isn’t dressed head to toe in furs, dark glasses and carrying large score cards. Last August Allen became Ireland’s first native born International Skating Union qualified figure skating judge, but at Blanchardstown things are a little more basic.
“These are the Emerald Skaters, novices learning their first skills on ice.” A group of girls and women slowly loop around the arena, gingerly raising a leg or precariously spinning on the spot. Allen is judging the fledgling skaters and quite a crowd has gathered.
Rialto ice rink, which I remember as a slushy, dark place, once located in an old cinema, was Allen’s childhood arena of dreams. It was since demolished to make way for apartments.
“I went into Rialto on the bus anytime I could, saving up, and I loved the speed. I could go as fast as I liked, whizzing round on the ice in the three hour session.” And for a severe asthmatic, speed was quite the attraction. His love for the sport was spotted on Twitter and he was invited to join the Ice Skating Association of Ireland.
My childhood memories of judges are of fur clad stony faced figures giving marks and the skaters looking up in trepidation. It all smacked of a Bond baddie-like intrigue. We were right; there was skullduggery afoot.
At the 2002 Winter Olympics, Canadian figure skating pair Jamie Salé and David Pelletier had gold medals restored after initially losing to the Russians in a bribery scandal.
“That was it with the old system. Figure skating is now judged entirely differently. It is now a merit system adding points up instead of removing them from the 6.0 maximum. There are technical judges and then we judge the execution of the move and the artistic performance.”
And the music does matter: “Lyrics are now allowed in the musical accompaniment so you now get a lot more popular music, whereas before that was for the exhibition section.”
Ireland does has an ice skating team but there is no permanent ice rink. Many athletes train abroad. Allen says: “It would be brilliant to get a permanent ice rink up and running. It’s like being a GAA county team and not having any pitch in the county.”
However, while it’s all hard going, the main thing is to make it look easy. “Ballet dancers think they can go on the ice and off they go doing beautiful moves but in reality it’s not like that. It’s ice, it’s really difficult not to fall over.”
When asked about Blades of Glory, Allen grins: “It’s brilliant, completely farcical and hilarious.” Though he’s dying to see I, Tonya, Allen admits it is “controversial”. People in the skating world are divided over whether to boycott it, and there is unease about the apparent rehabilitation of Tonya Harding.
This weekend the Winter Olympics starts and those of us in the know will be glued to our televisions judging triple salchows and double axels as instant experts. But the difference is Allen actually knows what he is talking about: “A lutz is the hardest. It’s a toe loop with revolutions. Expect quads at the men’s ... that’s four or more revolutions. Axels are very hard; you take off going forward and land backwards, so a double axel is two and a half turns.”
As for likely medalists, Allen is diplomatic: “I am not allowed to comment on who might do well as I might be judging the competitor in the near future.”
Allen is not yet at Olympic judging level but he is officiating in London and Sofia in the next few weeks. In the meantime he does it for fun: “You have to love this to do it. It’s cold, really cold.”
As for TV shows; when he is back in his sitting room in Raheny, Dublin, does he watch Dancing on Ice?
“I can’t watch it because I have to be so tight lipped when I am judging that I would just cut loose watching it and scream at the telly.”
His Brazilian husband is oblivious to the charms of figure skating and prefers to sit in the other room and watch Formula One. “He leaves me to it”, Allen says. “That’s fine, I don’t really like Formula One. I love my figure skating”.