Dear Torvill and Dean,
I heard you on the radio the other day. You were talking about why you chose Bolero. How you used to warm up to it and then it became your Olympic routine. I was thinking about how I might warm up for this. I thought maybe I could write to Bolero every day and see what happens. See where the music might take me. I imagine warming up for you meant moving freely around the rink, responding to the rhythm of the music, letting your bodies become in tune with each other and letting your skates get used to the ice. In some ways, writing this, I am doing the same thing, letting my fingers follow the words the music wants me to write.
You said you wanted to take us on a journey. Now I’m going on a journey too. To where you performed nearly 30 years ago. To where you were when my mum switched on the TV on 14 February 1984 and it slowly fizzed into life, so slowly that I heard the music before I saw you. In Black and White. I wondered if I’ve coloured in the memory since I watched you dance. Because I can see your blue, costumes billowing, even though I couldn’t see them then. It was as if we were all there too. Watching you dance. Willing you to win. For our country. For our city. I was 7 then. I’m 35 now and I’m writing something about you. To this music.
In February, 27 years after the Opening Ceremony for the Winter Olympics, I’m going to Sarajevo. I want to visit the ice stadium where you won the Gold Medal. It’s called the Juan Samaranch Olympic Stadium now. It was the Olympic Hall Zetra in 1984. And then it became the Zetra Sports Hall when it reopened in 1999. And it doesn’t show up anywhere online. Like you’re not supposed to find it. Perhaps because of its history, because of what it represents. This is what I know already: It was bombed by the Bosnian Serb Forces on 25 May 1992. The basement was used as a morgue and a storage space by the UN. British Forces were stationed there in 1995. The wooden seats were used to make coffins. There are other stories, that I cannot confirm, that suggest atrocities took place.
I cannot think of another place that has had such a tragic trajectory: from sporting glory to the horror of war. As a writer, I want to reflect this journey with care, sensitivity and respect. But I wondered how you felt about its history. How it felt to hear about the place where you must have life-changing memories being associated with death and war. To see the Olympic flag being burnt. The ice of the rink being replaced by the ice of the morgue. The seats becoming the coffins for civilian casualties, some of whom may have sat in the stadium just 10 years earlier. There are other images of Olympic logos riddled with bullets. And stories of executions taking place at the foot of ski jumps. The snow covered in blood.
But it starts with the music. And this is what I will listen to for 15 minutes every day. As I imagine you listened to it every day as you practised your routine. Until your bodies, your minds, were attuned to its rhythms and its increasing urgency. I will visit the stadium and sit there for 4 minutes 28 seconds imagining your routine. Imagining the cheers when they announced your perfect score: 666666. Imagining the flowers cast onto the ice. Red roses on the white rink. A prophetic image. I will throw a red rose onto the ice and visit the museum at the stadium. It tells the story of the Olympics but I am not sure yet how much is left unsaid.
Before I leave, I will visit the Latin Bridge in Sarajevo, another place marked by history, where the assassination took place that triggered the First World War. I will walk across the bridge. A bridge that crosses a city divided and torn by war. I will throw a red rose into the river. A river that may be iced over. For I am thinking of Bolero as a river, a narrative that flows through the two stories I am trying to tell, of the making of music and the making of history to that music. I will ask what happens when that history is rewritten, when a stadium becomes a morgue, a crescendo becomes an explosion and red roses become blood on the ice. I want to find out how it felt to visit Sarajevo in 1984. And how it feels now.
It all comes back to the ice. The ice that I held against my face in a tea towel to calm the pain of a black eye whilst watching you skating on ice on the television. I read that you learnt how to clean the ice at Nottingham Ice Stadium so you could train as late as possible into the night. I have this image of you driving the ice cleaner around at the early hour of the morning humming Bolero and the army jeeps driving into the stadium during the Bosnian war. A vehicle removing your marks from the ice of Nottingham. Those vehicles leaving their own trace on the ice of Sarajevo. Their own indelible stain on the stadium’s history.
It is these traces that I am looking for. The marks your blades left on the ice will be mirrored somehow by the marks these words make on a page, or on a stage. By the end of this journey I aim to have a piece of writing that can be read out to the music. Fifteen minutes of text infused by over 80 years of history. From 1928 to now. Because I want to take you on a journey…