The ICE is right for duo

THINK of skating and ice dance and the first names that pop into most heads would be those of Torvill and Dean. They glided over the ice in their sparkling purple outfits, famously snapping up a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics to the pulsing rhythm of Boléro.

Or perhaps it brings to mind the over-excited celebrities of Dancing on Ice – Suzanne Shaw, Gareth Gates and, unavoidably, Holly Willoughby's low cut frocks.

And what about the names John and Sinead Kerr? Unless you happen to be American, Japanese or an ice dance die-hard, the chances are they aren't going to feature highly on your list of sporting legends.

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After all, the brother and sister team come from a town, Livingston, that doesn't even boast an ice rink – how could they possibly be the country's most successful ice dancers of their generation?

John, now without the startling silver hair dye he had for the World Championships last month, flashes a perfect smile. In a transatlantic accent courtesy of his new home in New Jersey, he agrees.

"We have fans all over the world. For some reason they seem to love us in Japan and probably because we are based in the States now, there's lot of interest there too. But here? Well, we're pretty much left to get on with things."

He's being rather polite. The siblings' mum, Maeve, 56, however, is more succinct. "I can't understand it, they've done incredibly well, yet there doesn't seem to be that much interest in them here. They should be modelling, giving talks to schools, encouraging children into sport – but they're never asked.

"I remember the local gala day when the gala queen's mother was doing the crowning ceremony and John and Sinead were at home in the garden sunbathing – no-one thought to ask if they might do it. Yet the other week we were going to the World Championships and there were Japanese fans in kilts waving Saltires.

"It's a shame, because they would love to do more in Scotland."

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That said, you've got to get your skates on if you want to catch the pair on a flying visit home to their parents' house in Kirkfield West, Livingston. Life for the past two years for 29-year-old Sinead and her brother John, 27, has revolved around New Jersey where they live, eat and breathe ice dance with their two-times Olympic Ice Dance champion coach, Evgeni Platov.

Under his direction, the pair have just accomplished their most successful season ever: finishing eighth in the World Championships in Sweden a fortnight ago came hot on the heels of personal best marks

'People want entertainment, and we like to entertain'

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and fifth place in the European Championships, and fourth place in a Grand Prix event in Sendai, Japan, in December. This run has sealed their international reputation and gained them a new raft of fans.

All of which is setting them up nicely for two years' hence, when the Livingston pair will fly the British flag in the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, hoping to improve on their showing in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, when they came tenth.

"I think people want to be entertained and we like to be entertainers," says Sinead, explaining the pair's unique relationship with fans around the world.

"We like to do things that are a bit more innovative and creative – and the crowd do like that."

Her face, usually plastered with make up for a performance – once so much so that it actually, rather bizarrely, cost the pair points – today is bare, revealing Sinead to be strikingly and naturally pretty at the same time as shedding years from her rink persona. The sequins and revealing dance outfits are replaced by a simple T-shirt, jeans, sweatshirt.

"I suppose it's nice to be dressed up – yes, it's every little girl's dream – but honestly, I keep saying that come my wedding day there'll be nothing special for me because I'm so used to dressing up in sequins," she laughs.

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Sinead remembers being around seven when, hooked by the roller skating craze that swept Livingston in the mid-80s, she joined a club at Deans High School.

A chance family day out ice skating, however, was pivotal – soon the wheels had been swapped for shiny blades and hours spent at Murrayfield perfecting her spins.

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Her solo ice skating training came to an abrupt and frightening halt, however, when, aged nine she was struck down with potentially fatal meningitis.

While her parents, Maeve, a nurse, and Alastair, 52, a doctor, braced themselves, Sinead displayed the kind of physical strength that would eventually power her across a 60m by 30m Olympic standard ice rink to achieve breathtaking lifts, leaps and spins and place her among the best skaters in the world. Within nine months she had recovered, and was soon joined by her younger brother on the ice.

John, however, had his own challenges to face. "I was called every name you can think of," he recalls. "The kids at school would say 'Oh you must be a poof', skating for boys was just culturally unacceptable in this country."

With his Hollywood smile, flowing hair and lean build, John may look like he'd blow away in a stiff breeze, but nothing could be further from the truth.

He's all man, with a girlfriend to prove it.

"And this is a very physically demanding sport," he adds.

So, what of the future?

Sinead says: "If I had to give it up tomorrow I wouldn't mind, because I can look back on the Olympics and getting into the world top ten which has been amazing."

"I would like to think we can come back home and do something to help skating in Scotland and Britain as a whole," she adds, while John nods in agreement.

"It would be nice to put our knowledge and the skills we have learned to use here for the next generation."

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