BEIJING (AP) — First came the explosive hip-hop beat, then a bold rap verse proclaiming “The greatest of all time!”
That couldn’t have described Nathan Chen any better.
On the barren sheet of ice, matching the ferocity of that energy at the Beijing Olympics, was the usually reserved American figure skater, completing a near-perfect free skate and winning gold to cap his historic run at the Winter Games. .
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As he flaunted the final minute of his Thursday schedule at Capital Indoor Stadium with such joy and personality, it was clear that the 22-year-old American’s various musical selections – in this case, a “Rocketman” medley remixed and heavy by Elton John. of classic rock, pop, hip-hop and rap – marked a new, more avant-garde dawn for winning performances.
“I’ve always skated to quite slow beats, more classical tunes, and so bringing that faster beat (was) very exciting,” said Chen, a classically trained pianist who spends his free time in Beijing strumming his Stratocaster. “It was something that just made sense, and it was so much fun to skate and practice.”
Traditional figure skating music is often classical or instrumental – Bolero, Swan Lake, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 – or extensive film scores from movies like “Gladiator”, “Pirates of the Caribbean” or “Moulin Rouge”.
But the Beijing Olympics witnessed the rise of a more current, traditional and offbeat music that first took hold four years ago in Pyeongchang, the first Winter Games in which words were allowed. The eclectic mix of genres seen so far has produced a new tone in the most elegant performances, which are lavishly rewarded by the judges.
Adam Rippon, a member of the U.S. bronze-medal winning team at the 2018 Olympics, called Chen’s performance a watershed moment for the sport and predicted his soundtrack will inspire a new and different generation of athletes.
“It’s edgy, it’s fun, it’s young,” said Rippon, who helps coach figure skater Mariah Bell, one of Chen’s closest friends on Team USA. “When that hip-hop beat drops, it’s gone through all the technical stuff and it can just show its personality and it changes your outlook on how you feel about skating.”
Chen isn’t the only skater to take a step-by-step approach to music selection.
Elsewhere on Team USA, ice dancers Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue’s rhythm program features Janet Jackson’s socially conscious “Rhythm Nation.” Madison Chock and Evan Bates’ free dance unfolds to the electronic beats of French duo Daft Punk and aims to illustrate an avant-garde intergalactic love story.
“It was always music that I remembered, and of course my parents played it in our house and I grew up listening to it on the radio, but I think our love for Janet Jackson came because we fell in love dancing to that music,” Hubbell said. “It took us by surprise. It wasn’t necessarily a style that we really thought we would vibe with.”
The two dance duos won their events in the team competition last week with career-high scores, helping the Americans to a silver that could eventually turn to gold depending on the outcome of a doping case. Russian.
“Choosing a genre that’s not traditional – you know, we skated to electronic music at the Olympics in ice dancing. I don’t think in my memory it’s ever been done, and we’re proud to be a team that’s willing to take risks,” said Bates, who along with the rest of the dancers will begin individual competition on Saturday.
French skater Adam Siao Him Fa and Czech ice dancers Natalie Taschlerova and Filip Taschler also took advantage of the trend.
For his short program, Fa used an equally hip hop-infused “Star Wars” medley, and for his free skate he sampled Daft Punk’s famous “Harder, Faster, Stronger” chorus made iconic by rapper Kanye West.
The Czech duo’s rhythm dance used songs by Madonna which also featured rappers MIA and Nicki Minaj.
“We wanted to bring something iconic. Like, when people hear it, everyone will start dancing,” Taschler said. “We love this music. It’s great dance music and we try to share that feeling with the audience and the judges.
It will be hard to top Chen’s spectacular performance to music by Elton John on Thursday.
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It started with a low-key, haunting snippet of “Yellow Brick Road” backed by more traditional instrumentals. Then, its 4-minute crowning achievement veered into classic rock and pop hit “Rocket Man,” then finally turned to an electrifying “Bennie and the Jets” remix by singer Pink and rapper Logic, who said “Momma , I made it/ True story, I updated.”
For Chen, that meant an upgrade to gold.
“This program, no matter what, is always fun for me to skate,” he said, “and I loved it.”
It certainly produced better memories than four years ago in Pyeongchang, when its short program to the music of British poet and lyricist Benjamin Clementine fell flat. Even an incredible free skate two days later to an orchestral piece by Igor Stravinsky couldn’t save a medal for Chen.
He has come a long way over the past four years, devoting countless hours to perfecting his craft. And it came to fruition on the ice in Beijing, where the rap lyrics “I was runnin’ and gunnin’/Been fightin’ for something in due time” have never sounded so true.
“When you watch sports,” Rippon said after marveling at Chen’s performance, “you want to see yourself in there a little bit. that people feel more involved, more included, which makes it much more accessible to everyone.