Five-Ring Circus

Oh No, a Rhythmic Gymnast Just Did a Hoop Routine to the Theme from Schindler’s List

Neviana Vladinova of Bulgaria competes during the women’s individual all-around rhythmic gymnastics final on Day 15 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Rio Olympic Arena on August 20, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

While watching the rhythmic gymnastics all-around final this afternoon, I was struck by the music used by Bulgarian gymnast Neviana Vladinova in her hoop routine. The mournful violin seemed very familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. As I watched Vladinova twirl her hoop around her body and toss it high in the air, it came to me. Oh, no, I thought. She’s performing to the theme from Schindler’s List. It’s back.

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Schindler’s List is a very sad movie about the Holocaust. Its main theme, by composer John Williams, has somehow become a standard tune that figure skaters and gymnasts use in competition. At the 2014 Sochi Games, Russian figure skater Julia Lipnitskaia didn’t just set her long program to the Schindler’s List theme. She also dressed as the film’s iconic “girl in the red coat,” a young Jewish girl who is eventually murdered by Nazi soldiers.

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Here’s what I wrote back then:

From Katarina Witt to Irina Slutskaya to Johnny Weir himself, lots of great skaters have performed routines set to the Schindler’s List theme. These programs aren’t always well-received. As a recent post on the figure-skating blog Morozombie put it, it’s perhaps best to be “wary of attempts to portray the evils of the Holocaust and the suffering of the Jewish people on ice.”

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And yet, skaters keep on skating to Schindler’s List. Why does something that seems so vulgar strike the figure-skating community as the best idea ever?

Two years later, this musical choice still strikes me as bizarre. Perhaps I am in the minority here. “Exquisite choreography: the music lends itself toward these types of movements, and the choreography’s capitalizing on that,” one of the commentators on NBCOlympics.com’s rhythmic gymnastics livestream said of Vladinova’s routine. The judges didn’t love Vladinova’s performance, though. She scored a 17.883 for her hoops routine, seventh out of 10 competitors in the rhythmic individual all-around competition.

See more of Slate’s Olympics coverage.

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