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Lyrics open up new musical horizons in sports

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The 2018 Winter Olympics were the first Olympics where skaters from all disciplines were allowed to have lyrics in their music. Previously, only ice dancers were permitted to do so. While most skaters seemed to stick with music without vocals, including gold medalists Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and Alina Zagitova of Russia, some skaters did include vocals, including bronze medalist in women’s, Kaetlyn Osmond from Canada, with a wonderfully choreographed short program to a medley of Edith Piaf.

With regards to lyrics, most skating fans, myself included, are happy for the change, hoping it will inspire skaters to skate to songs they enjoy and modernize an old fashioned sport. Some skaters will use the lyrics well, such as Kaetlyn Osmond. Likewise, others will not. When I was watching skating in the Den, Gabrielle Daleman’s short program to the Habanera from “Carmen,” with vocals done by a pop singer instead of an actual opera singer, made everyone groan and comment at how awful it was, especially during the high notes where we plugged our ears.

Some worry this will lead to new warhorses, extremely overplayed songs that have long overstayed their welcome. With the introduction of lyrics, most skating fans are already worn out of “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Moulin Rouge,” although most enjoyed Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s free dance performance set to the latter. I’d argue that the Habanera from “Carmen” is still the most overplayed song in figure skating across all disciplines, and the fact that two routines to “Black Swan” finished on the podium for the women means we already have plenty of non-vocal warhorses.

Personally, I’d like to see more creative music choices that suits the style of the skater. Ivett Toth’s short program to AC/DC was fun, modern and a welcome change to the flowy, classical style we normally see. Anna Pogorilaya, whose long program from last season to “Le Di a La Caza Alcance” remains one of my all-times favorites, with its combination of grace and drama. Even without vocals, skaters can be extremely creative. Evgenia Medvedeva, the silver medalist at Pyeongchang, skated to the emotional Anna Karenina soundtrack, telling the story of a woman driven mad by love to the point where she ends her life be jumping in front of an oncoming train. Two years before, at the 2016 World Championships in Boston, she charmed the world by telling the story of a young deaf girl who regained hearing and learns to connect with the world around her set to the W/E soundtrack.

I also wouldn’t mind seeing these changes brought into artistic gymnastics, right now the only artistic sport that does not permit lyrics. Although the rules have changed to permit vocals, lyrics are still not permitted; in fact, artistic gymnasts can be deducted for words in their music if the judges feel inclined. It’s strange because its sister sport, rhythmic gymnastics, already has protocols for using lyrics in music and has had champions use music with lyrics in their routines.

Rhythmic gymnasts are allowed two out of their four individual routines to have music, and one of their two group performances, as specified in the Code of Points. They must have their music approved by the International Federation of Gymnastics through a music release form, which is then approved by a technical delegate. If approved, they can use the music. This encourages rhythmic gymnasts to use various genres.

Since artistic gymnastics and rhythmic gymnasts share an international governing body, and artistic gymnastics has only one event that requires music as opposed to four in rhythmic gymnastics, why not just streamline the process to include artistic gymnastics? It’s one of most popular sports at the Olympics, and including lyrics would possibly increase the popularity. For example, Margarita Mamun, the 2016 Olympic Champion, used Queen’s “We Will Rock You” for her clubs routine, thrilling the crowd so much that Freddie Mercury’s voice couldn’t be heard in the arena during the final.

It seems that the only thing holding back lyrics in artistic gymnastics is tradition. Hopefully we’ll see that tradition broken in the next few years like we have with figure skating.

Meghaen Mleczek ’20 (mlecze1@stolaf.edu) is from Chicago, Ill. She majors in English.