March 28, 2015

SHANGHAI (AP) It wouldn't be figure skating without Andrew Lloyd Webber.

''Phantom of the Opera'' is so popular a choice for skaters that the composer's music was on repeat at the world figure skating championships on Saturday as three men in a row chose it for their free skate programs.

''Phantom'' came on again several skaters later, and yet again toward the end of the night when silver medal winner Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan took the ice.

Although classical compositions and iconic Broadway scores remain the go-to musical choice for many of the world's top figure skaters, this is starting to change now that the sport's governing body has relaxed its rules and allowed music with vocals for singles skaters and pairs this year.

Now, Michael Jackson, Muse and Pink Floyd - yes, Pink Floyd - are getting air time alongside Webber and Mozart at the world championships.

''I think with an artistic person like myself, it gives us more breathing room to create and push the boundaries and experiment a little bit more,'' said Canada's Jeremy Ten, who skated to Jeff Buckley's mournful rendition of ''Hallelujah'' for his free skate.

The International Skating Union made the change in large part to draw younger fans to the sport. While some traditionalists feared figure skating competitions could look like exhibitions that have long used pop music, such as Stars on Ice, the musical choices at the world championships have been fairly balanced.

There's some pop but still plenty of ''Phantom.'' And even when skaters use pop songs, they aren't necessarily including the vocals.

Sweden's Alexander Majorov chose Pink Floyd's ''The Great Gig in the Sky,'' without the lyrics.

Was he concerned a song with vocals wouldn't appeal to the judges?

''I don't know, it's a really hard question. You should ask the judges,'' he said.

One thing is certain: there are more pop songs than there used to be. Germany's Peter Liebers skated to an instrumental version of the Coldplay song ''Clocks,'' Norway's Anne Line Gjersem selected ''Fly'' by Celine Dion, and Finland's Kiira Korpi brought out the Beatles with ''A Day in the Life.''

Television theme songs even made an appearance. Czech skater Michal Brezina had ''Game of Thrones'' fans humming along to the show's iconic theme song; he even picked a costume the ''Thrones'' character Jaime Lannister might wear - minus the heavily sequined collar.

''When I was sick this summer, I watched all four seasons (of the show) in one week,'' Brezina said.

Brezina is one of the fans of the new vocals rule - the ''Game of Thrones'' soundtrack didn't have words, but his song for the free skate did.

''I think it helps a lot because as a singles skater, it's always harder to express the music if you don't have words in it,'' he said.

Canadian skater Ten also likes how the sport is innovating, though not all of the new songs have been to his taste.

''There have been some interesting music choices,'' he said. ''I'm not going to name any names!''

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