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Pop Music Has Turned Figure Skating Into The Best Winter Olympic Sport

A song can make or break a particularly dramatic movie moment, a party, or an event. And while we can’t necessarily say the same for a figure skating routine (a great skater will thrive regardless of the song they choose to perform to), an upbeat, intense, or deeply personal tune can give an Olympic skater the opportunity to more effectively showcase both their technical prowess and personality to judges and adoring fans.

Which is part of the reason why this year, Olympic figure skaters from across the globe were finally given the chance to perform routines set to songs with lyrics (as opposed to songs that are entirely instrumental). The rule change may not seem like that big of a deal, but once you see a figure skater glide and twirl to Beyoncé there’s really no going back.

France’s Maé-Bérénice Méité won us over with a routine set to Queen Bey’s “Run the World (Girls)” and “Halo,” South Korea’s Yura Min and Alexander Gamelin tore up the ice to Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito,” and Italy’s Matteo Rizzo threw it back to the 1960s by skating to the Beatles’ “Come Together,” “Let It Be” and “Help!”. Germany’s Paul Fentz also skated to Paul Anka’s jazzy “Wonderwall” cover, a thing we didn’t even know existed before this weekend.

 

Coldplay had a surprisingly large presence at this year’s Olympics, as the much talked about “Shib Sibs” (U.S. skaters Maia and Alex Shibutani) set their routine to pop-rock hits “Paradise” and “Fix You.” Adam Rippon, America’s first openly gay Olympic athlete (snowboarder Gus Kenworthy became the second just a few weeks later), also dazzled with a spellbinding performance set to Coldplay’s “O.” Apparently Rippon initially planned to skate to an original rendition of Rihanna’s “Diamonds,” so now we feel kind of robbed.

Canada’s Patrick Chan skated his way to a gold medal with the help of Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah.” A traditional song choice, but clearly an effective one. Fellow Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, on the other hand, surprised viewers with their out-of-the-box song choice: “El Tango de Roxanne” from Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! Virtue and Moir’s unconventional selection ultimately paid off, as the pair also secured a gold medal. Luhrmann himself even took to Twitter to praise them, enthusiastically referring to Virtue and Moir as “Christian and Satine on ice.”

Figure skating has always been a fascinating sport to watch—especially when it comes to the Olympics, where Canadian skaters seem to perform consistently well. But if this weekend is any indication, figure skating as we know it has been transformed for good, and for the better. Gone are the days of multiple skaters spinning to the dulcet tones of Bach or the sweet sounds of Swan Lake. Now, watching figure skaters perform to Drake or Bruno Mars or Lorde is completely possible, and even likely.

The change not only benefits us, by making a beautiful but complex sport a lot more accessible to the ordinary viewer, but also benefits the skaters themselves. Convincing audiences and judges to cheer you on, especially when you’re not all from the same country, can be difficult. But you don’t need to speak the same language or share the same customs to appreciate Beyoncé’s brilliance. And if performing to pop songs (even when those pop songs involve Paul Anka and Oasis) gives skaters the freedom to produce increasingly dynamic and unique performances, then we’re all for it.