Rio Kicks off 2016 in Olympian Style: The History of Dueling Olympic Anthems

People watch fireworks during New Years
People watch fireworks during New Years celebrations at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro on January 1, 2016.AFP PHOTO/ YASUYOSHI CHIBAYASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images

If you ask me – do you want to be freezing in Times Square or swaying in a tropical breeze on the Copacabana when the clock strikes 12 and the fireworks bring in the new year – I have to say, at least for 2016, it’s gotta be Rio.

And to signify the start to Brazil’s 2016 Olympian coming-out party, the fireworks launched to the theme music of the Olympics.

Ah, but which theme? As you can see below when you click on the image below, they play the music actually called “Olympic Fanfare and Theme”. 2016 New Year Fireworks Rio de Janeiro_ao vivo

The “Olympic Fanfare and Theme” was created by famed composer, John Williams, who was commissioned by the United States Olympic Committee to compose a theme for the Los Angeles Olympic Games. In 1984, John Williams had already created the iconic musical themes for Jaws, Star Wars, Superman and Indiana Jones, so it was not a stretch to select Williams.

To be fair, there are always new songs and anthems created for each Olympic Games. The Indie band Elbow created the theme for the London Games in 2012.

And when Europeans in general think of theme music for the Olympics, they likely think of Vangelis and his theme from the movie, Chariots of Fire.

But, as explained in this great summary article from the Smithsonian, American audiences were trained by the networks in the 1970s, primarily ABC, to associate the Olympics with Leo Arnaud’s “Bugler’s Dream”, which begins with those familiar bass drum beats leading into a trumpet fanfare.

So in the 1990s, there were two themes in America associated with the Olympic Games. At that time, NBC had the rights to the Games, and decided at the 1996 Games in Atlanta to combine them: starting off with Arnaud, and then 46 seconds later, jumping right into Williams’ blaring trumpets. You can hear that version below.

Are you still keeping score?