Louder, higher, stronger: The best Olympic anthems of all time

The theme song of the games should reflect the main principles of the Olympic movement and emphasize the uniqueness of the Olympic host country. How will the song of the Sochi Winter Olympics compare with favorites of past years?

Russia took selecting the theme song for the Winter Olympics in Sochi very seriously. Source: Press Photo

Anna Kozina, for RBTH

There is a song in the Soviet cult classic film "Moscow Laughs" whose words became a kind of slogan of the times: "Songs help us to build and live." In Russia, songs are more than just music and words. So it is not surprising that Russia took selecting the theme song for the Winter Olympics in Sochi very seriously.

The competition organizers laid out particular requirements for would-be composers. The theme song for the 2014 Sochi Games needed to combine not only the main principles, objectives, and fundamentals of the Olympic movement, but also faithfully reflect the characteristics of the host country of the most important competition in four years.

Eventually "The Games That We Deserved" by Nikolai Arutyunov and Karen Kavaleryan was named the official theme song for Sochi’s Olympic Games. Since the composers wrote the song in a popular music style, world-famous Russian opera singers such as Dmitri Hvorostovsky or Anna Netrebko simply could not be chosen to sing it.

Two Russian pop stars were chosen to sing the theme song. The first is Dima Bilan, who participated in Eurovision twice and won the competition in 2008 with a spectacular song featuring well-known violinist Edvin Marton and Olympic figure skating champion Evgeni Plushenko. In 2012 and 2013, Bilan was one of the mentors on the Russian version of “The Voice.” The second is Philip Kirkorov, the Russian version of the "King of Pop." He has attended the World Music Awards five times and received the award for the most popular artist in Russia, as well as Best Selling Russian Artist.

Olympic anthem. Source: YouTube

An Anthem for Fans

Additionally, a special anthem for fans was released 100 days before the start of the Games as part of the Sochi 2014 Cultural Olympiad. For two years during concerts of the Russian pop band Tokio, the musicians who composed the song recorded the voice of the audience singing the chorus. During the Games in Sochi this anthem will be played at all Olympic venues and will be the main song at sports sites before competitions. An English version of the Sochi 2014 fan anthem will be made for foreign visitors.

An Anthem for Fans. Source: YouTube

No one knows what the fate will be of the first Sochi anthem, but there are several examples in Olympic history of theme songs of the Games that have become true masterpieces.

A short list of anthems that have stood the test of time:  

1. The most famous. “Barcelona," which was created by opera singer Montserrat Caballé and rock singer Freddie Mercury. Having written this song in just a couple of months in 1988, Mercury and Caballé only performed it twice in public. The third time was scheduled for the opening ceremony of the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. However, Mercury died in November 1991. At the insistence of Caballé, the song was still played but in an unusual way. The Spanish opera star sang her part live, standing in the center of the arena, and the recorded voice of Freddie Mercury was played over loudspeakers located throughout the stadium.

Barcelona. Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe. Source: YouTube

2. The most touching . At the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow there was a beautiful anthem for the opening ceremony of the Olympics that was dynamic and filled with the spirit of athletic competition, however it remained in the shadow of a different song performed at the closing ceremony. Spectators cried as they listened to the song "Goodbye, Our Sweet Misha" (Misha, the brown bear with Olympic rings on his belt, was the mascot of the Moscow Olympics).

Olympic song - 1980. Source: YouTube

3. The most original . The epic "Oceania" anthem that was performed by Icelandic singer Bjork in 2004 at the opening of the Summer Olympic Games in Athens had no relation whatsoever to sports, but everyone liked it. These games had some unique music in general. The parade of countries, during which athletes proudly marched after their flags, was accompanied by live music from DJ Tiesto, who had written eight new compositions specially for the occasion.

Greece Olympic opening ceremony 2004. Bjork. Source: YouTube

4. The most innocent . René Simard, a 14-year-old Canadian who performed "Welcome to Montreal," the official song for the Olympic Games in 1976 with the pure voice of a child and became the most famous youngster in the music world.

René Simard. Bienvenue à Montréal (Olympiques). Source: YouTube

5. Best hit : Whitney Houston sang "One Moment in Time" at the 1988 Olympics. The song was very successful, peaking at number five on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and number one on the U.K. charts and in Germany.

One moment in time. Whitney Houston. Source: YouTube

The Sound of Olympia

In addition to the unique anthems, there is an official Olympic anthem that started it all. It was conceived on the eve of the first Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, when Greek opera composer Spyridon Samaras came up with the music, for which Greek poet Kostis Palamas later wrote words. It is noteworthy that Pierre de Coubertin (founder of the International Olympic Committee) heard the song at the opening ceremony of the first Olympiad and loved it, despite the fact that de Coubertin did not understand the song, which was written in Greek. The anthem was officially approved only in 1958. The score of the anthem is kept in IOC headquarters in Lausanne.

The official hymn is always performed at both the opening and closing ceremonies, and sometimes even at the awards ceremony as the national anthem of the winners. It was first used as a national anthem in Albertville in 1992. The CIS team, which did not have a national flag, used the Olympic rings as a coat of arms, and when athletes from the former Soviet Union won an event, the Olympic anthem was played.

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