My favorite national anthems and thoughts on soccer
Posted: Friday March 3, 2006 5:58PM; Updated: Monday March 6, 2006 4:56PM
Stefania Belmono, an Italian cross country gold medalist, prepares to light the Olympic torch during the opening ceremony.
After three weeks of abusing my arteries and liver with a diet that consisted primarily of pasta, cheese and red wine, I finally returned to the States on Wednesday.
The Olympics were quite an experience -- much fun and often inspiring, but not quite the majestic event I remember thinking they were as a kid. Part of the reason that the mystique wasn't there, I think, is that the Games have added several new sports in an attempt to skew younger. I always imagined an Olympic venue as the kind of place where the only music played was something classical (or, if they were feeling mod, something by John Williams) and where the announcers were proper British gentlemen who spoke in hushed tones and constantly toasted the can-do attitudes of the lads competing.
Now, though, you have the halfpipe and in addition to some awful music (Hammer was involved) there's a pair of P.A. announcers, one speaking Italian and the other speaking some dialect of English. The latter would say things like, "She's rocking the No. 1 bib!" and use the word "bling" as a verb ("She's blinging her goggles!"). I can't imagine anyone ever accused Jesse Owens of rocking the long-jump pit.
That's not to say that this is a bad development, mind you. Austerity can be nice, but a lot of the snowboarders and freestyle skiers and practitioners of the new extreme sports that are working their way into the Games really bring something nice to the event. At the men's freestyle aerial finals, I wandered past security and into the pen where the competitors who didn't make the finals watched the event, along with coaches and athletes from other sports. And I'll never forget the extent to which they were pulling for each other. It didn't matter what country the athletes were from; everyone in the pen was screaming his or her head off for the guy to nail his trick.
Olympic athletes tend to occupy insular worlds -- if you're on the biathlon World Cup circuit, you probably spend a lot of your time with guys who ski and shoot rifles. That can be a good thing or a bad thing. You can really get to know and care for your competitors, or familiarity can breed contempt. And it was good to see that on that night, at least, the former was the case.
One other thing about the Olympics: I spent a lot of time listening to national anthems. So without further ado, here are the top five national anthems:
5. USA: The downside -- it's virtually impossible to sing properly (it covers like five octaves), it can be wordy (seriously, how often have you ever used the word "rampart" or "o'er" or "spangled," for that matter?) and the melody was written by an Englishman. There really should be some rule that a national anthem be written by one of the country's top musicians. That could present a bit of problem with, say, Canada (Gordon Lightfoot? Bryan Adams? Glass Tiger?), but in the case of the States, we could throw out something by Sousa or Copland, couldn't we? Nonetheless, it builds to a great crescendo and, when played properly, can make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
4. England:America the Beautiful might make a better anthem for the U.S., but that would mean the U.S. and the U.K. would have the same melody. God Save the Queen has a nice tune, and it's very short. That can be a good thing.
3. Australia: They made a mistake not going with Waltzing Matilda (the longtime unofficial anthem, which was nearly made the official anthem), but Advance Australia Fair has a nice, triumphant feel to it.
2. Austria: This one got played a lot in Turin. The tune is attributed to Mozart, though most people now think he didn't write it. Still, it's a doozie. And it's got some interesting lyrics: "Land of mountains, land on the river/Land of fields, land of cathedrals/Land of hammers, rich in outlook." Land of hammers, you say.
1. Canada:O, Canada is not just the best anthem ever, it's one of the best songs ever. When it gets to the end, where there's that da-da-da-da-da-da-da "God keep our land, glorious and free..." part, it takes every fiber of my being not to run out and defect.