Friday, Dec 14, 2018 | Last Update : 04:35 AM IST
The International Skating Union's decision to allow music with lyrics was taken back in 2012.
As a complete non-follower of Winter Olympics, this year's sports extravaganza at Pyeong Chang, South Korea, had me readily converted, not because of any particular sports event, but because of the usage of classic rock music by participants to support their performances. For instance, how often do you see a contestant wearing a leather top with an image of guitarist Angus Young duck walking in his trademark school boy outfit on the back of the outfit, and going through the motions on ice with AC/DC's "Back In Black" and "Thunderstruck" playing in the background? But that is precisely what Hungarian Ivett Toth did at the Gangneung Ice Arena this year. The motions mattered little for viewers like me who really had no clue on the difference between axel - barring the one that has Rose as a suffix - and lutz, but can certainly identify an AC/DC song when heard!
The International Skating Union's decision to allow music with lyrics was taken back in 2012, but the change only came into effect following the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. The new rules also permitted single skaters and pairs to use music with lyrics and vocals in their performances. In the past, this led to an automatic deduction of points and, even if the audio track had no lyrics but contained vocals, skaters were still penalized.
However, for the first time in Olympic history, figure skaters, this time around, were allowed to compete to music with lyrics - previously, it was merely ice dancers that had the privilege — making this the first Winter Olympics where people were curious to hear what song was selected for a routine. Toth was certainly not alone in taking "advantage" of this new rule as Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir completed their routine with a medley that ensured that they at least had their musical priorities correct with selections ranging from the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy For The Devil" [the opening track of the band's 1968 album, 'Beggars Banquet'], Eagles' "Hotel California" [the melody of the title track from the 1976 album having been written by Don Felder - initially as "Mexican Reggae" - with drummer Don Henley writing most of the lyrics with Glenn Frey], and Santana's "Oye Como Va" [composed by Salsa legend Tito Puente in 1963, and featured on Santana's 1970 album, 'Abraxas']. Oh, by the way, Virtue and Moir achieved a Gold for their routine!
Incredibly, Ivett Toth was not the only athlete to have used a rock soundtrack to dance to; there were selections from Pink Floyd, David Bowie, and Gary Moore too, with the more intriguing track and my personal favourite from the British punk era of 1977, "Black Betty", a 20th-century African-American work song often credited to Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter, performed by a band named Ram Jam! Meanwhile, familiar names from the history of rock and roll included a medley of songs popularised by Elvis Presley, including "Rip It Up" and "Can't Help Falling In Love", which were performed to by Russian skater Mikhail Kolyada, with Italy's Matteo Rizzo performing to three evergreens from the Beatles: "Come Together", "Help", and "Let It Be".
While most figure skaters still stuck to more conventional sound tracks such as Tchaikovsky's classic 'Swan Lake' or Bizet's 'Carmen', Russian champion Evgenia Medvedeva went a little off centre by selecting a Chopin nocturne and incorporating the sound of her own breathing! But there is no denying that the Winter Olympics not only rocked, but popped too. For instance, French figure skater Mae-Berenice Meite stole the show with her programme set to a medley of Beyoncé hits, whereas there were tracks from Ed Sheeran and Adele utilised too, as well as the ever popular "Despacito" - the Latin pop tune sung by Luis Fonsi featuring Daddy Yankee, a remix of which received three nominations at this year's 60th Grammy Awards, including 'Record Of The Year', 'Song Of The Year', and 'Best Pop Duo/Group Performance' - which was used not once, but twice; once by the Korean team and, the other, by the Chinese team.
So what are the learnings that were obtained from the Olympics going rock? For me, it essentially expanded the focus of the sport towards a new audience, including the millennials and, similarly, popularised the sport of skating by going viral online, ensuring that there will always be somebody watching that video somewhere and saying to themselves, or to a group of friends hooked through social media, that they should try their hands - actually, legs - at skating! Go figure…
The writer has been part of the media and entertainment business for over 23 years. He continues to pursue his hobby and earns an income out of it.