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.

Making swimmers cry


I’ve finally heard some anthems in person at the Olympics! Well, the Paralympics at least. And it turns out the easiest way to make an athlete cry is to get 18,000 people to badly sing along to their national tune.

Last night, the swimming arena had a 16-year-old American, Ian Silverman, in tears, and also managed to set-off 23-year-old Frenchwoman Elodie Lorandi.

The British crowd didn’t know all the words to either the Star-Spangled Banner or la Marseillaise, but bellowing the tunes seemed to work just as well.

I’m sure they could have had several Chinese and Ukranian swimmers crying their eyes out too if they’d known their anthems better.

Clearly, most of the athletes were on the verge of tears anyway, but it really seemed like the singing acted as the tipping point.

At the top of this post is a photo of 18-year-old Mexican swimmer Gustavo Martinez getting his gold. He didn’t cry, but then he had the quietest medal ceremony – unsurprising as last night was probably the first time most people had heard Mexico’s anthem. Also, Gustavo likes listening to Queen, and Mexico’s Himno Nacional unfortunately sounds nothing like We Will Rock You.