In Copenhagen last month, Torvill and Dean stood joint second at this stage with Gritschuk and Platov.
Usova and Zhulin, the current world champions, held the lead.
Oksana Gritschuk and Yevgeny Platov of Russia, fresh and fluent and unassailably young, won the first of the night's set dances, the Starlight Waltz, but had to give best to their compatriots Maya Usova and Alexandr Zhulin in the second element.
As 10 per cent of the overall marks were allocated for each dance, they enter tomorrow's event - which carries 30 per cent of the total marks - as joint leaders.
Although the cheers rang round for them beforehand, and the bouquets cascaded on to the rink afterwards, he clearly knew what the score was.
Jill Trenary, the former world champion who is Dean's girlfriend, said afterwards: 'They are disappointed and down right now.' Bobby Thompson, their dance adviser, concurred.
It constitutes their worst performance at this stage since 1980.
They are capable of doing that - at last month's European Championships, where they finished first after a bewildering shuffle of scores at the end of the final event, their original dance was the strongest part of their overall performance, playing as it did to their smoothness and technique.But even if they do manage to enter the final day in contention, they will be relying upon a routine that has been exhaustively - and exhaustingly - revised in the last fortnight.It is likely to be as great a challenge as they have ever faced in their competitive careers.JAYNE Torvill and Christopher Dean discovered last night just how difficult it will be to add a second Olympic title to the one they won 10 years ago. They finished third behind their two youthful Russian rivals at the Hamar Amphitheatre in a discipline where, at their peak, they were always clear leaders.
And in the compulsory programme which opened the ice dance event, the British pair - now 35 and 36 - looked their age.
Given the way Gritschuk and Platov came through to sweep the free programme with their exuberant rock and roll routine, the task facing T and D now appears even steeper. Thompson spoke admiringly of the marks their blades had left in the ice - 'They were literally three inches apart, almost like a compulsory figure.' But Gritschuk and Platov in particular had a greater fluency about them, and a greater speed over the ice.