There are some traditions that have lasted through the Olympics since the modern games first began back in 1896. The Olympic anthem is one of them. The song is officially just called "Hymn," and was originally composed a Greek musician known as Spyros Samaras. Since the 1950s, it has been the official Olympic anthem of Olympic Games and the International Olympic Committee. But what are the Olympic anthem lyrics? And why are they in Greek, when the official languages of the Olympics are French and English?
For those who are into Olympic history, it was the Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin who resurrected the idea of the Ancient Olympiad that was once held in Athens and created the first modern games. Naturally, they were held in Greece, since that's where the original games were born. While this song had been performed at every Olympic Games since in some form or another (and not always officially), it wasn't made the "official anthem" until 1957, and the standalone performance of it didn't become a mandatory tradition until the 1960 Summer Games in Rome.
Ironically, because Americans always have to put their own stamp on things, the actual Hymn was never heavily featured in the early Olympic television broadcasts. Instead, they used the more heavily endorsed composition titled “The Bugler’s Dream,” written by Léo Arnaud, a French-American composer.
The song wasn't even written for the Olympics, it was just a piece of music that was endorsed by American broadcast stations, and which TV stations could get the rights to, so they could make money off of it. (NBC bought the rights to the song when they took over broadcasting in 1992 for instance.)
It wasn't until the 1980s that broadcasters began to move away from it, first with a piece written by the legendary composer John Williams to the 1884 Summer Games. The fusion of the two pieces is what NBC used in the 1990s.
So, when did the U.S. start featuring the real Olympic Anthem? After the 1990s, Americans stopped having extra songs composed for the games. While NBC still uses these non-official themes as part of their broadcast, that has made room for the traditional anthem, which is performed by various artists from the host country, to step up and take center stage.
And the song should be given a front and center spot for the opening ceremony. The lyrics speak to the hearts of champions, the traditions behind the games that stretch back to civilizations long gone, and the idea of the world coming together in friendly competition instead of in war, that the games have represented since they were held in 1920 after the first World War ended.
Here's The Song As Originally Written In Greek
Αρχαίο Πνεύμα αθάνατο, αγνέ πατέρα
του ωραίου, του μεγάλου και του αληθινού,
Κατέβα, φανερώσου κι άστραψε εδώ πέρα
στη δόξα της δικής σου γης και τ' ουρανού.
Στο δρόμο και στο πάλεμα και στο λιθάρι
Στων ευγενών αγώνων λάμψε την ορμή
Και με το αμάραντο στεφάνωσε κλωνάρι
και σιδερένιο πλάσε και ά ξιο το κορμί. (δις)
Κάμποι, βουνά και θάλασσες φέγγουνε μαζί σου
σαν ένας λευκοπόρφυρος μέγας ναός.
Και τρέχει στο ναό εδώ προσκυνητής σου (δις)
Αρχαίο Πνεύμα αθάνατο, κάθε λαός. (δις)
Here's The English Lyrics Version
Olympian flame immortal
Whose beacon lights our way
Emblaze our hearts with the fires of hope
On this momentous day
As now we come across the world
To share these Games of old
Let all the flags of every land
In brotherhood unfold
Sing out each nation, voices strong
Rise up in harmony
All hail our brave Olympians
With strains of victory
Olympic light burn on and on
O'er seas and mountains and plains
Unite, inspire, bring honor
To these ascending games
To learn more, visit teamusa.org. The Winter Olympics will air live starting February 8.