The music most Americans associate with the Olympics is not the official theme. In fact, it wasn’t even written for the Olympics.
In the contest we’ll cleverly call “Music That Makes Us Think of the Olympics,” the finalists are:
BRONZE MEDAL: “The Olympic Hymn”
The official music for the Olympic Games was written by Greek composer Spyridon Samaras (with lyrics by Kostis Palamas). It was performed at the first modern Olympic games, held in Athens in 1896, and has been part of every opening ceremony since 1960. It’s an appropriately solemn and liturgical piece (listen to it here), but it doesn’t get your heart beating quite as quickly as the two tunes that follow.
SILVER MEDAL: “Olympic Fanfare and Theme”
For the 1984 games, the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee commissioned John Williams to compose a short piece for the opening-day festivities. His music—brassy and brimming with heraldic goodness—should be instantly familiar to the hundreds of millions who’ve since watched coverage of the games on ABC and NBC.
GOLD MEDAL: “Bugler’s Dream”
Opening with what might be the most familiar drum beat of the last half century, “Bugler’s Dream” was composed by Léo Arnaud for a 1958 album called Charge!. It would have likely been consigned to the milk crate of history had not ABC Sports decided to use the track for its telecast of the 1968 winter games in Grenoble. Now often heard in a medley paired with Williams’ “Fanfare,” Arnaud’s music evokes a sense of pageantry and spectacle as great as the Games themselves.
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