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What You Don't Know About The Iconic Olympic Theme Song

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If you watch the Olympic Games, surely you recognize the heroic Olympic theme song that’s played on TV. But do you know the story behind this piece of music? Who composed it? How did it become so symbolic of the Olympics? Well, here’s the inside scoop.

Starting in 1968, ABC began airing the Olympic theme song that opens up each telecast. Everybody knows it by the huge timpani solo, followed by the trumpet and brass fanfare. This music is a work originally composed in 1958 by French-American composer Leo Arnaud, for his piece “Bugler’s Dream.”

So for 16 years this was the Olympic music soundtrack in America.

Another iconic work associated with the Olympics was composed by John Williams. He was commisioned to write “Olympic Fanfare and Theme” and some other works for the 1984 Summer Olympic Games held in Los Angeles. Soon Williams’ composition became just as much associated with the Olympics as “Bugler’s Dream.”

Then NBC acquired the rights to broadcast the Olympics in 1988 and experimented with other music to go along with the games. But nothing stuck.

It wasn’t until the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta (the first games to be hosted in America since 1984) that NBC hit gold! They put the two pieces together into what is now known as the famous theme song. The first 45 seconds are “Bugler’s Dream” by Leo Arnaud, immediately followed by “Olympic Fanfare and Theme” by John Williams.

This is not to be confused with the famous "Olympic Hymn" composed by Spyridon Samaras in 1896 with original libretto by the Greek poet Kostis Palamas, which became the official anthem of the Olympics in 1958.