|Saturday, 04 August 2012 17:56|
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.
Chariots of Fire
The decision made by Scottish runner Eric Liddell at the 1924 Olympics — whether he, as a devout Christian, would compete on the Sabbath — was not made right before the Games.
The film suggests that he was informed of the scheduled 100-meter finals as he boarded the boat that was taking the British delegation to the Paris games. In fact, he knew of the schedule months in advance—and soon after, in the face of immense pressure, informed British Olympic officials that he would be honoring the Sabbath. News of his decision made headlines around the world, as depicted in the movie. (Interestingly, a scene that does seem to be a writer’s creation—Liddell being knocked down during a race, only to get up and win—hews very closely to a real event.)
Johnny Weissmuller earned five Olympic gold medals in swimming—and set 51 world records. After retiring from competition, he became Hollywood’s most famous noble savage.
It’s hard to decide what’s a more impressive feat: those 51 world records or that Weissmuller did not lose a single race in his 10 years of amateur competition. The guy could swim. He quit the sport after the 1928 Olympics and toured the country as a model and spokesman for a swimwear company (for which he was paid a then-lavish sum of $500 a week).
When MGM decided to make a “talkie” based on the first Tarzan book, Weissmuller was cast as the tree-dwelling hero. (Incredibly, the producer who offered Weissmuller his contract had no idea that his leading man was also an Olympic hero.) Released in 1932, Tarzan the Ape Man was a hit—Weissmuller’s laconic brawn thrilled audiences. He went on to star in 11 more Tarzan movies—in which he never once uttered the line: “Me Tarzan, you Jane.”
Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie won gold medals at three consecutive Olympics. She later moved to Hollywood and, in 1939, was second only to Shirley Temple as America’s most popular actress.
One of the greatest figure skaters of all time, Henie was all of 11 years old when she traveled to her first Olympics in 1924 (where she finished eight in a field of eight). She earned gold in the three Olympics that followed. And won a record 10 consecutive world championships.
A born performer, Henie understood that a figure skating routine could be more than a haphazard series of jumps and spins—and she set about transforming the sport. She was the first skater to incorporate dance choreography into her routines and was the first to compete in costumes with hemlines cut above the knee.
After her last Olympics in 1936, Henie moved to Hollywood. She signed a contract with 20th Century Fox and appeared in a string of very successful movies that showcased her ice-cutting talents (while not stretching her limited acting abilities and Norwegian accent). She also found time to star in several traveling ice shows—popularizing and legitimizing this once shabby form of entertainment.
Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci did not perform her floor routine at the 1976 Olympics to the piece of music that now bears her name.
A few readers of a certain age will swear on a stack of Bibles that they saw this routine, with this accompanying music. And they did—days after the performance.* Comaneci, it helps knowing, had become the darling of the Montreal games after earning the first-ever 10s from Olympics judges. Perhaps looking to add a bit of (superfluous) sentimentality to a re-broadcast of her floor routine, someone at ABC’s Wide World of Sports decided to swap the (admittedly generic) piano piece that Comaneci actually used with the mournful theme music of the CBS soap opera The Young and the Restless.**
The new clip was tremendously popular; the song, even more so. Viewers flooded local TV stations with calls asking about the music. Released as a single a few weeks later, “Nadia’s Theme (The Young and the Restless)” spent a more-than-respectable 22 weeks on the Billboard charts, peaking at the number 8 spot.
* While pretty much dominating all her other events at the 1976 Games, Comaneci had to settle for a bronze medal for that ">now-famous floor routine.)
** The piece, in fact, was called “Cotton’s Theme” and was originally composed for the 1971 film Bless the Beasts and the Children, a startlingly earnest anti-war oddity about a group of misfit teens and their efforts to save a herd of bison from slaughter.
Bruce Jenner, Kurt Thomas and Mary Lou Retton
U.S. Olympians from the ’70s and ’80s did not have very successful show-biz careers.
That would be something of an understatement. More than a few athletes went to Hollywood—but none of them found anything like the careers of Johnny Weissmuller or Sonja Henie. Here are three such Olympians and their most (in)famous movie or TV roles.
Bruce Jenner (1976 Olympics, gold medal, decathlon): A lawyer-turned-promoter in the 1980 disco-comedy epic Can’t Stop the Music, and regular appearances, as himself, on the E! series Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
Kurt Thomas (1976 Olympics, gymnastics): If the heartbreak of missing the U.S.-boycotted 1980 Games (for which he was a favorite to win gold) weren’t enough, Thomas had to endure the withering reviews that accompanied his starring role in 1985′s Gymkata—quite possibly, the greatest gymnastics-as-martial-art movie of all time.
Mary Lou Retton (1984 Olympics, five medals, gymnastics): Playing an exceptionally limber Tiny Tim in Scrooged!. Oh, and falling out of a piñata in a 2011 commercial for Dairy Queen.
Though it claims to “based on a true story,” not much of what happens in the movie reflects actual events.
Hey, we like the movie just fine—but a sober and factual re-telling of real-life events it’s not. This much, the film gets right: there were, indeed, four bobsledders who competed for the Jamaican team at the 1988 Calgary Olympics. After that…
MOVIE: The sledders are a ragtag quartet of elite sprinters with questionable training practices.
REALITY: They were a highly motivated group, made up of three soldiers and a business-school student.
MOVIE: The team has one coach, a washed-up ex-sledder who lives with the shame of being caught cheating at the Olympics.
REALITY: The team had several trainers and advisers. The real-life coach, according to one of the real-life team members, was “one of the top competitors in the world.”
MOVIE: At the Games, the team encounters hostility from the top-ranked sledders.
REALITY: Fellow athletes treated the newcomers with warmth and friendly support.
REALITY: Fast forward several years: at the 1994 Olympics, Jamaica’s four-man bobsled team finished in 14th place—ahead of teams from Russia, Italy and the U.S.
The Olympics have been featured in the plot of three episodes of The Simpsons.
And we’ve judged them.
BRONZE MEDAL: “The D’oh-cial Network” (2012)
The episode’s B-story featured Patty and Selma going to the 2012 London games, where they row against the Winklevoss twins. Lending his voice: Armie Hammer, who played both litigious siblings in The Social Network.
SILVER MEDAL: “Boy Meets Curl” (2010)
Homer and Marge—along with Agnes and Seymour Skinner—are selected to represent the U.S. in mixed-doubles curling at the 2010 Calgary Olympics. The so-so main plot is trumped by the secondary story about Lisa’s obsessive collecting of Olympic pins.
GOLD MEDAL: “The Old Man and the C Student” (1999)
The show begins with the International Olympic Committee coming to Springfield—and Bart scuttling any chance of the city hosting the Games with an offensive stand-up comedy routine before the visiting dignitaries. But it’s Homer’s attempt at creating an Olympic mascot—“Springy, the Springfield Spring”—that earns the episode comedy gold.
The 2008 Olympics Opening Ceremony
The opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics was truly spectacular—and will likely never be topped.
When the International Olympic Committee selects a location for the Games, it specifically bestows the honor not to a nation, but to a city. Though that hasn’t stopped host countries from using the opening ceremony for political purposes. An infamous example was the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin, which many saw as a showcase for the might of Hitler’s Third Reich.
China, it has been widely suggested, used the 2008 games as a lavish “coming out”—a global platform to show the emergence of a 21st-century Middle Kingdom. To that end, local Olympic officials spared no effort or expense in putting on a show for the ages. Filmmaker Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers) produced the ceremony—a statement in itself, as Zhang’s earlier work had been banned in China. Organizers even snared Steven Spielberg as an artistic adviser; he soon resigned in protest of China’s relationship with Sudan.
Featuring a cast of 15,000 performers, the ceremony was an eye-popping mix of artistry and technology—and earned enthusiastic reviews. The budget: more than $100 million. It was (and still is) an absolutely staggering amount of money to stage a four-hour TV show—and the kind of expense that most governments have now found very difficult to justify.
Danny Boyle, the film director who produced the quirky and charming opening ceremony for the London games (with less than half Zhang’s budget) knew he had to dampen expectations for his production—he told a newspaper: “You can’t get bigger than Beijing.” It’s a statement that’s likely to remain true for a long time.
The 2012 Olympics, by the numbers
448,000: Total cost, in dollars, of staging the first modern Olympic Games, held in Athens in 1896
870 million: Cost, in dollars, of providing security at the 2012 Games
14.4 billion: Total cost, in dollars, of staging the 2012 Games
394,000: Amount, in dollars, paid by CBS for U.S. broadcast rights to the 1960 Summer Games
225 million: Amount, in dollars, paid by ABC for U.S. broadcast rights to the 1984 Summer Games
1.18 billion: Amount, in dollars, paid by NBC for U.S. broadcast rights to the 2012 Games
70,000: Number of spectators who watched the opening ceremonies of the 1896 Games
1 billion: Number of worldwide viewers, estimated, who watched the opening ceremony of the 2012 Games
7 billion: Number of tiny pieces of paper dropped by a helicopter during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Games (one for each person on the planet)
200: Number of buildings that were demolished at the site of the Olympic Park for the 2012 Games
4,000: number of newts temporarily relocated during the construction of the Olympic Park for the 2012 Games
--Entertainment - Time