A MAN and a woman at the pinnacle of their talents glide across the ice to the throbbing strains of Ravel in a moment of figure-skating history.
Few of us who saw it can forget Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean's passionate performance to 'Bolero' at the Winter Olympics a quarter of a century ago. But just a few weeks ago, with a lot less fanfare, John and Sinead Kerr, a brother and sister from West Lothian, made their own bit of UK skating history, taking bronze at the European Championships in Helsinki – Britain's first such medal in 15 years and only the second in 25 years, when Torvill and Dean were in their prime.
"It's quite nice company to be in," says John, who knows it's an understatement. "We look up to Chris and Jayne and think they're amazing, brilliant ambassadors, but it's almost like being a footballer and comparing yourself to Pel or Maradona. We're Sinead and John Kerr, and that's who we want to be."
Winning the medal in Helsinki was an emotional moment, the result of years of training and financial investment, not to mention giving up a social life, potential partners and having to put up with being mistaken for a couple. "The most emotional part for me was when the marks came up and we knew we were in with a shout," says John. "Usually, it's the girls who start crying but I got a little bit tearful."
Sinead adds, "The fact we got the bronze was amazing. Then once you've calmed down, you realise how important it is to have done that, to have made it all worthwhile: the money UK Sport had put in, our parents for all the support they'd given us… it was a great feeling to be able to say to these people, 'Look, it has all paid off.'"
Sinead's passion for the rink began not on the ice but down at the local roller disco, at the age of five. "There was a coach who thought I had a bit of talent, so he took me along to the local ice-rink. And I took to that pretty much straight away," she says.
"It started off as a hobby, but then it became more serious. I was doing it after school, then mornings, and then competitions. John basically started by being taken along to the ice-rink to watch."
Both began as single skaters, though Sinead turned to ice-dance on the advice that she wasn't good enough at the jumps but was "an artistic skater". She paired up with another partner and had a measure of success on the junior circuit. "I split with my ex-partner just at the time when John was thinking about free-skating, so we teamed up together," says Sinead.
John was about 18 and Sinead 20. It's not a bit weird, then, to be cosying up with your big sister? "By the time you're 18, you're past that stage of embarrassment," says John. "For me, Sinead was the best partner I could possibly get. To be honest, someone of Sinead's level shouldn't have given me a second glance. I didn't have any experience so, really, she gave me a chance to do something in a different part of the sport, and I just took it."
And both agree that a shared desire to succeed has been the key to their success. "We're very ambitious," says John. "We had the same mindset," agrees Sinead. "We knew it would work out together."
But committing themselves to the sport has meant having to take odd jobs along the way to pay for their training. Sinead has done a spot of modelling, appearing on an ice-catwalk for Alexander McQueen. "He was looking for a skater for one of his wacky collections," she says. "I got to go to London Fashion Week, spend 13 hours in hair and make-up, then go out in front of a star-studded audience. Kate Winslet was there and Jude Law – it was a great experience."
And John infamously played Ally McCoist's body double in the Robert Duvall film A Shot at Glory. "That comes back to haunt Ally more than it does me," he laughs. "I was doing a bit of extras work to pick up some money. Ally couldn't make it that day – I think he was playing for Kilmarnock at the time – so they cut my hair a certain way and basically I was doing this running-over-the-hills shot. The funny thing is, I'm not even sure if it made the final cut."
Now, though, they have a full-time training routine, with 20 hours a week on the ice and ten hours in the gym. But they decided to move to New Jersey, in the US, for the opportunity to improve in the sport. "After the Olympics in Turin in 2006, UK Sport asked us, 'What would make a difference from you being, say, top ten, to medal contenders?' The decision came back that we'd probably have to move to the States. That's where the best coaches are. Our home rink at Murrayfield had everything we needed in terms of facilities, but we just didn't have the coach."
So now they train together, work together, socialise together; don't people sometimes think they're together? "We get mistaken for a couple quite a lot," says Sinead, "because we don't look that much like each other."
"She puts people off," adds John. "Girls think, 'Oh I quite like him but he's probably with her.'"
"We're not together, by the way," laughs Sinead. "People can ask us out."
But they have little time left for relationships. "They can get slightly neglected because you're so into what you're doing and it takes up so much time," says John. "When you do have the time, you're really tired and you end up being the worst boyfriend ever."
The next stop is the World Championships, next month in Los Angeles. Though the competition will be tough, they hope to be in with a chance of a medal. Then it's full steam ahead for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. "The ultimate dream is a medal at the Olympic Games," says Sinead."
But recalling Torvill and Dean's amorous embraces on the ice, how do they reconcile the romance of their routines with the fact that they are brother and sister? "We avoid routines that are overly romantic," says John. "There are a lot of themes out there," agrees Sinead. "You don't necessarily need to do a dance about romantic love between a man and a woman. We try to dance in a completely different way, and that gives us a different look as well, which makes us stand out a bit from the other couples. It has made us more unusual and memorable."
"And," adds John, "I guess you don't want to make the audience feel too uncomfortable."
Still, the circuit is notoriously bitchy: who could forget Nancy Kerrigan's tumble at the hands of arch-rival Tonya Harding? Or the behind-the-scenes backbiting in the Will Ferrell movie Blades of Glory? "Brilliant film," laughs John.
"But it's not anything like people would imagine," says Sinead. "We're all very competitive, so it's not as if you can get really close to somebody. But we all understand where each other is coming from, and in the end we're pretty friendly.
"Our coach is always telling us horror stories – 'Don't leave your skates lying around in case someone steals them,' or something like that, but maybe he's just a bit paranoid from the old Soviet era, because he's Russian."
Post-Olympics, there is the prospect of retiring from competitive sport and hitting the show circuit. We might even see them on Dancing on Ice.
"We got asked to do the first show," says John, "but it was in an Olympic season, so we didn't feel we could give the time. When the offer came up, none of us thought it would be a success anyway. I guess that has proved us all wrong." r
For more information, visit www.sineadandjohn.com
torvill and dean
l JAYNE Torvill and Christopher Dean, the former British, Olympic and World champions, made ice-dance history on Valentine's Day, 1984, at the Sarajevo Winter Olympics when their 'Bolero' routine carried off the gold and made them the highest-scoring figure skaters of all time.
l Turning professional, they toured the world with ice-dance shows before returning to Olympic competition in Lillehammer in 1994. After pioneering the use of one piece of music per routine, they embraced the style of Fred and Ginger, but their 'Let's Face the Music and Dance' performance included a controversial lift, and judges awarded them bronze.
l Dean once walked the beat as a policeman, while Torvill was an insurance clerk. They teamed up when she was 17 and he 16.
l Retiring in 1994, Dean moved to the US with his wife and two children, while Torvill settled in Surrey with her family. But the millionaire pair were enticed out of retirement for ITV's Dancing on Ice in 2006.
l A superstitious Dean always places his skate-guards parallel to Jayne's, rinkside.
l Phantom of the Opera star Michael Crawford helped develop their Barnum Olympic dance routine and was their acting mentor.
l In the pair's home town of Nottingham, the National Ice Centre is accessed through Bolero Square, in tribute to the pair's Olympic victory.