Olympic anthem of the day #9: Singapore!

Schooling just after he’s schooled Phelps. Geddit? Geddit???!!! I’ll get my coat

This Olympics is proving amazing for countries winning their first golds. First, there was Kosovo, then there was Puerto Rico and somewhere along the line there was also Singapore, after Joseph Schooling won the 100m men’s butterfly, stunning Michael Phelps in the process.

There is a beautiful story about Schooling’s idolisation of Phelps over at The Guardian, but let’s get to more important matters: what does Singapore’s anthem sound like, the song Schooling got to so proudly hear soon after his victory? Er, it’s not the best.

It was written by composer Zubir Said in 1958 when he was working for a film studio, which probably explains why it sounds like a 1950s’ Asian showtune.

If those are your thing, you’ll love it. Unfortunately for me, it does nothing, which is why I should let this post finish instead with the words of May Chen, a journalist for The Straits Times, who was at the race and whose article about it wonderfully quotes Said’s song:

For one-and-a-half minutes as the national anthem blared through the speakers, I was not a journalist trying to stay neutral in the press tribune.

I was simply a Singaporean, proud that one of our own has demonstrated – on the biggest stage – the country’s progress.

You stand taller, sing louder, but you cannot stop the tears.

Majulah, Singapura (Onward, Singapore).
Majulah, Singapura (Onward, Singapore).

Bonus: Thanks to David of nationalanthems.info here’s a bizarre Yiddish piano version of Singapore’s anthem. Probably the funnest it’ll ever be heard.

Olympic anthem of the day #4 USA! USA!

Ryan Held crying

Yes, it’s an obvious choice.

And yes, there’s nothing worse than stoking American patriotism.

But the clips of Ryan Held crying as the Star-Spangled Banner plays after he’s just won gold in the 4 x 100m freestyle are too good. If anything shows the positive power that anthems can have, it’s the photo above.

“I didn’t think I was going to cry,” he told reporters afterwards. “I was too tired. I didn’t think I could.

“I’ve heard the national anthem hundreds of times, but as soon as that played it was just something different.”

If you want to know the story of that anthem – the bizarre, 100-plus year journey it took to becoming America’s anthem – read my book. There’s a whole chapter on it.

I am, genuinely, expecting a Black Lives Matter protest to occur during one of the US medal ceremonies this Games. Not for someone to start singing the “black national anthem” – Lift Every Voice and Sing – over the top of it, but maybe for someone to hold up a placard. If that occurs, the Star-Spangled Banner will appear here again. Apologies in advance.

National anthems at the Olympics… in numbers!

  • 54: anthems played at the Games, one more than at Beijing
  • 46: number of times The Star-Spangled Banner was played, eight more than any other
  • 4: number of times it was played for Michael Phelps
  • 13: anthems played that weren’t at Beijing, including Algeria’s slightly unusual effort
  • 13: anthems lost since Beijing, including, sadly, Mongolia’s
  • 8/1: odds you could get on the wrong anthem being played at a medal ceremony
  • £0: money you’d have won on that bet
  • 1: anthem complaint
  • 210: seconds that the London Philharmonic Orchestra cut out of the world’s best anthem, Uruguay’s, to make sure it met Olympic rules on length
  • 210,000: number of newspaper articles published pointing out that Uruguay’s anthem had been cut
  • 0: number of times Uruguay’s anthem was actually played
  • 1: number of times IOC president Jacques Rogge shoehorned a reference to God Save the Queen into his closing speech (“These were happy and glorious games”)
  • 80,000: number of people in the Olympic stadium who didn’t get the reference
  • 1: Li-Cheng Tseng (pictured above), a Taiwanese Taekwondoist, who provided easily my favourite anthem moment of the Games.
    She was favourite to win her class, and ended up third behind Britain’s Jade Jones, but I’ve never seen someone so happy to be standing on a podium collecting a bronze. She stood and listened to God Save the Queen like it was her own. And she’s still smiling now!

If you can think of any others please let me know