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Top 5 Figure Skating Routines Featuring Classical Music

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Oksana Baiul at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer

Sports and music are awkward bedfellows, often competing against each other for attention in the media or events such as the Super Bowl halftime show.

However, the two come together seamlessly in figure skating, where memorable performances are identified by the title of the accompanying music, and the perfect song can make or break a performance (the rules include deductions for “Musical Violations”). With the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi starting this week, and figure skating inevitably at the center of the action, we’re celebrating our five best uses of classical music in Olympic skating performances:

1. Torvill and Dean: Bolero (1984)

Who can argue with perfection, which is what Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean scored with their ice dancing routine to Bolero at the 1984 Games in Sarajevo. The Ravel classic with its dogged rhythm was an unusual choice, as skaters traditionally chose music with varying tempos until that time. However, the slow steady crescendo won over the crowd and judges, who all gave the couple the highest possible 6.0 score for artistic expression. The iconic routine is still a draw—this winter the team will stage a performance in Sarajevo on the 30th anniversary of their win.


2. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir: Mahler's Fifth Symphony (2010)

A piece of music rarely steals the attention away from a pair of fit and attractive Olympians, but the 2010 gold medal routine by Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir converted a few of their followers into Gustav Mahler fans. Skating to the utterly romantic Adagietto from the composer’s Fifth Symphony, the couple enchanted the audience with an equally dreamy program en route to a gold medal in Vancouver. WBUR critic-at-large Ed Siegel wrote in the Boston Globe, “Virtue and Moir probably did more for old Gustav than anyone since Leonard Bernstein half a century ago."


3. Battle of the Carmens (1988)

In 1988, the media went wild over the rivalry between East German skater Katerina Witt and the American Debi Thomas when the two medal contenders chose to skate to Bizet in their long programs. Dubbed the Battle of the Carmens, the drama in the ladies’ free skate escalated to operatic proportions on Calgary’s ice. At the end of the competition, Witt’s Habanera triumphed over Thomas’s Seguidilla, and won the East German her second Olympic gold.


4. Brian Boitano:  Meyerbeer’s Le prophèt (1988)

On the men’s side of the competition in Calgary, Brian Boitano presented a short program based on the classical ballet Les Patineurs, or The Skaters. The ballet was adapted from the music of Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera, Le prophète. Legendary figure skating choreographer Sandra Bezic was lauded for her apropos routine, which utilized traditional skating moves and mined the sport’s lore.


5. Oksana Baiul: Swan Lake (1994)

Having a background in classical ballet, Oksana Baiul of the Ukraine opened her competition at the 1994 games with a short program to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. The 16-year-old Ukrainian orphan embodied the black swan with her sylph-like movements. She even incorporated toe-work, usually reserved for pointe shoes onto the ice. However, it was her long program, to My Fair Lady, which catapulted Baiul over Nancy Kerrigan for the gold medal.

Honorable mentions: Peggy Fleming's program to Tchaikovsky in 1968; Gordeeva and Grinkov’s free skate to the Moonlight Sonata in 1994; Michelle Kwan’s short program to Rachmaninoff in 1998; Sarah Hughes’ long program to Daphnis et Chloé in 2002; and Evan Lysacek’s short program to Firebird in 2010.

Tell us your favorite in the comments box below: