Candeloro outshines the soldier skaters

 

IT IS seldom, in the course of our daily lives, that we perform triplelutz-double-toe-loops but on the rare occasion that we do it usually happens, inadvertently, as we try to board a taxi at the end of an office Christmas party-night. A few hours in the cells at Pearse Street Station and a warning about our future behaviour can follow if we've been unlucky enough to have been spotted by a passing Garda.

The really galling thing is that when Viacheslav Zagorodniuk pulled off the same feat of bodily gymnastics on television last Tuesday everyone watching shrieked in delight and admiration. Granted Zag, as we came to know him, triplelutz-double-toe-looped in the middle of an ice skating rink during his short programme at the European Figure Skating Championships in Paris, but that's hardly relevant.

The BBC beamed this toe-looping extravaganza into our homes all last week and studio expert Haig Oundjian did his best to educate us Philistines who wouldn't know the difference between a triple axle and a pound of sausages. "The triple axle takes off from forward edge - you'll recognise it instantly," he reassured us.

Our Zag was the defending champion and he skated well but the real star of the evening was Frenchman Philippe Candeloro. There he was, all in black, zips and chains everywhere, looking mean and moody, with a remarkable pony tail hanging from his head. The large fur coat-clad contingent in the audience (who said the fur trade was dead?) greeted him with gasps of horror, but everyone else whooped with delight as Philippe skated, dramatically, to the sounds of the theme from Mission Impossible (none of that auld Strauss stuff).

"He's cracked it - triple, triple," Barry Davies yelped gleefully when Philippe triple-tripled. "Now he has to keep his head while one or two of the spectators might be losing theirs ... aaggh, wouldn't ya know it, hand down on the triplelutz," added the Murray Walker of the ice skating world as Philippe blew it. Still, back in the studio, Haig was excited by the Frenchman's efforts. "He's a wonderful character - Napoleonic," he swooned.

Meanwhile British champion Neil Wilson met his Waterloo when he had a go at a combination jump, ending up on his bum and lodged in the Cafe de Colombia advertising board. "Oh dear, that should have been a triplelutz-double-toe-loop," said Barry, thinking back fondly to the days when John Currie and Robin Cousins flew the Union Jack at these events with a bit more grace. "It's a pity the revolutions took him into the barrier," commented a sympathetic Haig back in the studio, as if it was the revolutions' fault.

On to the Pairs competition where the female half of the partnerships must have a real battle to keep their lunches down in the course of their routines. They get chucked up to the rafters, flung against the boardings, rotated at 300 miles an hour and, when they finally stop spinning, thrown around the rink like boomerangs - and they still manage to smile through it all. Meanwhile the perpetrator of these acts, the male, only has to stand there in the middle looking handsome and waving to the crowd.

Mandy Wotzel was flung around the rink by her partner Ingo Steuer. The fact that the couple are in the German army was a source of some amusement for Barry Davies but, bold as he was to chuckle, one has to admit that soldiering' hasn't always been synonymous with ice skating.

Can you imagine one of our lads up in the Curragh asking their quartermaster for time off to go to the local ice rink? "Sir, any chance of getting off BSE border patrol today? I have to practice my triplelutz-double-toe-loops." "At ease O'Reilly. Thank you for your years of service, here are your discharge papers and there's the door." "Thank you Sir."

Hopefully Mandy and Ingo's quartermaster won't be as hard on them when they return to barracks with only a silver medal in their kitbags after Russia's Marina Eltsova and Andrey Bushkov snatched gold from their grasp.

Unlike Mandy and Ingo, Irish snooker player Stephen Murphy, who was profiled on RTE's The Professionals last week, was well pleased with a second place finish in Bangkok last November when he was a member of the Irish team that reached the final of the Honda World Cup.

"It's probably put me financially ahead of the posse for the first time in my life, that's the best way to explain it - before, I was always having to borrow money off my friends and my family to get over the next hurdle," said the 27-year-old Dubliner, who shared prize money of £54,000 with team-mates Ken Doherty and Fergal O'Brien after Ireland lost to Scotland in the final.

Murphy, now 27, turned professional in 1989, but the seven years since have been a struggle, not least financially. He is currently ranked 61 in the world, a drop of 11 places from last year and a world away from the top 16 where the big money is made.

Every January Murphy and hundreds of other snooker hopefuls have to endure the Blackpool ordeal, when they play an endless number of matches, in warehouse-like conditions, over two weeks at the Norbreck Castle Hotel in an attempt to qualify for the televised stages of the season's major events. Murphy hates the experience, the city and the venue with a passion but he knows it's the most important fortnight of his year.

"I don't want the Blackpool Tourist Board getting on my case and suing me or anything but I don't see any reason to come to here - the sea is disgusting, you can't get in it. I hate the place. When most players see the turrets of this castle they go `uch, here we go again. You're just in this little cubicle, this box in the north east of England and it's play your match, give us the result and get out. Your whole season rests on how well you do here - a bad couple of weeks in Blackpool and you can be out for six months."

Bangkok gave Murphy a taste of the big time and he loved every minute of it, even if he found the leap from Blackpool, with "no audience, no cameras, no nothing", to being the centre of attention, a daunting one.

A bad week in Blackpool leaves the struggling pro having to find alternative ways of making a living through the season. We saw Murphy taking on the entire Mullingar team, who were given a 750-point start, over 15 frames, a deficit the professional had to make up before the end of the match if he was to win. "If you win you get paid, if you lose you don't," he was told before the first frame. The glamour of a professional sporting life?