Reminder: Someone figure skated to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” 18 years ago and it was poetry in motion
While it’s been 25 years since the timeless teen anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit”was born, we’d be irresponsible arbiters of culture to forget that it’s also been 18 years since a champion on ice skated to Nirvana and further immortalized the nihilist anthem in the pop-culture cannon. In the pre-Y2k year of our lord 1998, a flannel-draped figure skater Scott Williams danced to “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” with a choreographed routine that seamlessly married both his angst and his abilities to swirl his hips in the air like a human baton.
As you can hear in the video, the awkward-but-appreciative commentators for Champions on Ice aptly remarked that while this wasn’t a typical genre picked for figure skating — Williams was killing the game, “This is not something that just any skater can do, it takes the innovativeness of Scott Williams.”
Figure skating is by nature a visually beautiful sport, but there is an amplified beauty in watching a man in carefully curated flannel leverage his body into spins with the poetic conviction that only comes from someone entranced with 1990s alternative rock culture. Even though this performance was four years after the tragic death of Kurt Cobain, I have no doubt his ghost caught wind of the familiar refrains vibrating from the ice and he felt honored, or at least confused.
Luckily for all of us in the world who appreciate the rare sight of pro figure skaters twirling to guitar-laden tracks from our formative teen years, Williams wasn’t the only figure skater who traded out the classical soundtrack for a dive-bar jukebox track. Here are a few more figure skaters who incorporated rock classics through the years.
Ashley Wagner — Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”
During the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 the US skater Ashley Wagner impressed a crowd with her footwork and gravity-defying routine choreographed to the Pink Floyd classic “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”
Shen & Zhao — Queen’s “Who Wants To Live Forever”
The dynamic Chinese skating duo Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo performed elaborate choreography to Queen’s “Who Wants To Live Forever” during the 2010 Winter Olympics, and based on their athleticism they’ll likely live close to forever.
Elvis Stojko — Van Halen’s “You Really Got Me”
Five years before Williams displayed his rock roots on the ice, the skater Elvis Stojko charmed an audience at the 1993 World Skating Gala by performing a triple axle to Van Halen’s “You Really Got Me” in his faux-jeans, black t-shirt and blooming mullet.
Isabelle & Paul Duchesnay — The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”
During the 1989 World Figure Skating Championships the French skating duo Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay performed a dramatic interpretation of The Beatles’ depressive hit “Eleanor Rigby,” which showed an emotional depth that the Nirvana-loving Williams had surely appreciated.