I am very much a fan of big sporting events, even when I don’t watch them! Summer is always a great time for those big events, most notably the Olympics and the World Cup. I vaguely remember the 1984 Olympics as a memory of a memory; I am also a HUGE fan of music. Therefore, the highlight of any Olympics/World Cup [more recently] for me is (or was) the theme music. I want to share some of my favourite theme songs from world sports with you. Let me know what you think. Do you agree with me? Have I left any out? I should point out that the ‘greatest’ in the title, means greatest to me. Love of music is subjective and anyone is free to loathe ALL my music choices.
Barcelona Freddie Mercury & Monserrat Caballé – Barcelona (1987, used in 1992 Barcelona Olympics): This is obviously one of my favourites. What is not to like about rock and opera? Barcelona ’92 for me was the perfect Olympics. (It was in a good time zone too!) This song is especially poignant as it was recorded way ahead of time due to Freddie Mercury’s ill health. Just the repetition of ‘Viva’ and ‘Barcelona’ still makes my hair stand on end! And the line ‘If God is willing, Friends until the end,’ sung by someone who had passed on by the time the Olympic games happened… that just makes me cry. The song has everything. I like the melody, though I feel it is a bit of an acquired taste. It is not very singable, especially Caballe’s parts. I think this is everything a majestic theme song should be. Hard to top.
Koreana – Hand in Hand (1988) Seoul Olympics: This is the first one I can really remember, which is why it holds a very special place for me. NTA Ilorin played it so much, I was afraid the singers were going to get a sore throat! There is just something about this one that captures the hope that characterised the 80s, the coming down of the Berlin Wall, the hope for world peace and cooperation that seems so elusive now. That is why listening to this still makes me cry! Lyrics are Simple yet Superb I think. ‘Breaking down the walls that come between us for all time!’ Not too many lines are harmonised, but when they are, they are good. Easy to listen to. Hand in hand was in my head for most of the 90s. Easily part of the soundtrack of my life. It has not a grand, but a sweet majesty. Beautiful.
Il Divo & Toni Braxton – Time of our Lives (2006) Germany World Cup: I actually did not hear this till 2007, because I took a break from watching sports [Many reasons. TL, DR: Capitalism]. This song was one of the things that drew me back in. Il Divo has always been a favourite of mine, since I heard them sing Regresa Mi at the Miss World thing. Time of our Lives is such a football song. It manages to capture the feeling that keeps football fans coming back for more, despite repeated disappointment. ‘We’ll find the glory in the air– for the time of our lives…’ This song has such beautiful harmonies, but what else would you expect from 3 classically trained singers and two pop stars! You would probably not be humming this to yourself often, but you may be tempted to belt it out in the shower. The crescendo into the verse lends so much majesty to here. And the violins! Sublime.
Celine Dion – Power of the Dream (1996) Atlanta Olympics: Atlanta ’96 was a very good Olympics for me. The perfect combination of functioning ‘NEPA’ [the guys who control electricity in Nigeria by not giving you any], a surprisingly favourable time zone [everything happened after the day’s work was done] and nascent satellite television, ensured that I did not miss a second of these games. Sang by Celine Dion, this was the perfect song for the 90s. Perfect lyrics with all the olympiad buzzwords ‘Dream’, ‘Faith’, ‘Inspiration’ etc. Basically a dream will take you anywhere. My favourite line: ‘The world unites in hope and peace, We pray that it will always be.’ Very 90s. Not many harmonies, but does not detract from the beauty of the song. Very singable, I imagine talent shows of the 90s had people singing this A LOT!!! This was another case of sweet majesty, some crescendos, but there was more majesty in the lyrics than in the melody itself. Celine Dion is this song though. Slick.
Gloria Estefan – Reach (1996) Atlanta Olympics: Sung at the Closing Ceremony at Atlanta 96. This song felt like the end of the era. It is a very Olympic song, featuring the ‘higher, stronger’ from the Olympic motto. The Atlanta Olympics was epic for the world and for Nigeria, so this song captured that epicness – for me. Simple yet so very meaningful lyrics, ‘Just for one moment touch the sky.’ As someone grew up listening to Estefan, I listened to that song and wanted to touch the sky too. Not many harmonies, but still a solid song. It has a cool relaxing melody. I don’t think the song was meant to be majestic, but it more more inclined to evoke a sense of nostalgia. Also check out the Spanish Version. Si, yo hablo un poco de espanol! Reach!
Shakira – Waka Waka (This time for Africa)  World Cup South Africa: For the first World Cup to be held in Africa, we needed an African song. However, I like this song because it captures that ‘Coke advert’ feeling of football. Remember the Whenever there’s fun, there’s always Coco-Cola 90s ad? I do feel that the theme song could have been sung by an African. There was a missed chance there. Nevertheless, I like the danceability of the song. Not much going on with the lyrics…‘This time for Africa’. Not much in the harmonies as well. But the melody is very nice, very zumbarish! I really like the song, but it is limited in its versatility. Though I suspect I am more likely to prefer older songs. This would probably be last on the list, if I was ranking, but you know… ‘This time for Africa’.
Whitney Houston – One Moment in Time (1988) Olympics Seoul. Aww! Whitney my love! The first song I remember hearing over the radio ever was, Greatest Love of All by Whitney Houston. Here voice is truly the soundtrack to some moments in my life. One Moment in Time is another anthem from Seoul. I really believe that the 80s had the best music! I love the lyrics — ‘Give me one moment in time, When I’m racing with destiny.’ Listen to it and you feel like you can run like the wind. This song has Melody and Majesty already in the Harmonies. Though truthfully, all you do when listening to this is focus on Whitney’s powerful voice. Momentous.
Sarah Brightman & Jose Carreras – Amigos Para Siempre (1992) Barcelona Olympics: Another Barcelona song. Overshadowed by BARCELONA!!! Most of the song is in English, but the title line is in Spanish. It highlights the spirit of the Olympics which is world peace. If we play together, we are friends, we do not go to war against each other. Brightman and Carreras carry this song very well. Two classic singers in a classic song.They do the song credit. Amics per sempre, Means a love that cannot end, Friends for life, Not just a summer or a spring. The hope that peace and unity and love will last beyond the sporting moment… Hopeful. Forever.
There is one last song which I must add. It is not a theme song from an event, but from a sporting film. That is Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire for the 1981 film of the same name. I think it is one of the best of all time, the song, not the film. (I have thoughts about the movie, diversity and being released in 1981, just a year after the 1980 Olympics which was boycott by 65 countries.) Chariots of Fire was thereafter the official theme for the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, and it was played prior to the start of the men’s 100m race final at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, and by Mr Bean at the 2012 London Olympics… It has no lyrics, but its majesty resonates with me very deeply. So a quote from the film, spoken by Ian Charleson’s character: “Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within.” So that is my final pick. Chariots of Fire.