Can Michael Jackson Save Figure Skating?

From Rolling Stone:

That question will be answered this season as the International Skating Union allows athletes in all disciplines to perform to music with lyrics for the first time. Skating insiders say that the lyrical free-for-all is an attempt to boost television ratings and lure younger viewers. Last year’s Winter Olympic qualifying competition, the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, saw a 20-percent decline in viewership from the previous Olympic year. And according to the United States Figure Skating Association, 52 percent of American figure skating fans are now over the age of 45. This is a far cry from the early Nineties, the good old days of none other than Tonya Harding.

The (lyrics) rule might not seem revolutionary, but it is, in fact, a radical policy shift. Ice dancers have been permitted to use vocal music since the 1997-98 season, when the ISU mandated that all teams perform a jive for the tightly restricted original dance portion of the competition. Because of an unforeseen – though perhaps not unforeseeable – dearth of instrumental jive music, the ISU was forced to concede to lyrics. However, ice dancing is dramatically different than freestyle skating, the kind most familiar to the majority of viewers that features jumping, spinning and, in the case of pairs, overhead lifts. The two disciplines are so different they do not even use the same type of skate blade. Up until now, freestyle skaters would be penalized for the use of lyrics in competition, and if they didn’t like it, their only option was retiring from Olympic-eligible competition.