The "adventures" of the Olympic anthem
In 1893 the excavations carried out at Delphi by the French Archaeological School at Athens brought to light two hymns in honour of Apollo on one of the exterior walls of the Athenians' Treasure. About a year later, during the IOC founding congress, a musical composition was presented, which was based on the ancient verses and was entitled "Hymn to Apollo". It was interpreted by Jaenne Remacle and by a choir and was signed by the French composer Gabriel Faure. This original composition was the beginning of a series of Olympic anthems that were presented in the history of modern Olympics. The search for a permanent official Olympic Anthem led the IOC to announce an international competition in the mid-1950s. However, the anthem that was eventually adopted was not the anthem that won the competition, but the anthem that had been composed for the first Olympics, which were held in Athens in 1896.
The organizing committee for the first modern Olympic Games entrusted to two of the most eminent modern Greek composers from the Ionian Islands, Spyros Samaras and Dionysios Lavragkas, the creation of the music that would accompany the Olympic Games. Indeed, Lavragkas composed the musical anthem "Pentathlon", which was presented during this contest. Samaras was assigned the creation of an Olympic anthem that would be presented at the opening of the Games. The writing of the lyrics was entrusted to Kostis Palamas, one of the most distinguished Greek poets. According to accounts dating from that time, the presentation of the Olympic Anthem made a very good impression and its rendering was requested again.
In the next three organizations, in Paris (1900), in Saint Louis (1904) and in London (1908), the organizers were not so much interested in the creation of a special anthem for the Olympics. Besides, this was a time when the ceremonies and the symbols of the Games were at an early stage, their definite form being assumed in the 1920s and 1930s. Nevertheless, in 1912, during the athletes' parade at the opening ceremony of the fifth Olympic Games in Stockholm, the composition by the Italian Ricardo Barthelemy "Olympic Games Triumphal March" was played. Barthelemy was the first winner in the category of music in the Muses Pentathlon, in the art competitions that would accompany the Olympic programme from then (1912) and for the next four decades.
In the following organizations the musical theme in the opening or closing of the Games was different and the compositions that were presented were not always original creations, specially intended for the Olympic Games. An exceptional case was the creation of an Olympic anthem by the American Bradley Keeler for the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, as well as the composition "Olympic Anthem" by the famous Richard Strauss, which was presented during the opening ceremony of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Another characteristic case was that of the Finnish composer Jean Sibelious, who refused to compose the anthem for the opening of the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Despite his refusal, his compatriots chose for the closing ceremonies one of his former works, the "Song for the Athenians", which was associated with the effort of Finland for independence and at the same time with the Olympic Games, seeing that its theme was inspired from the ancient Greek history.
By the early 1950s the ceremonies and symbols of the Games had assumed their definite form. However, there was not any official Olympic anthem yet, namely an anthem that would be the same for every organization and that would accompany permanently the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games, especially the ceremonies that bore on the Olympic flag. For this reason, the IOC announced in May of 1954 a competition for the creation of an official Olympic anthem. The rules of participation were quite simple prescribing that every candidate work ought to be original, of a duration of 3-4 minutes, symphonic and based on certain odes by Pindarus on the Olympic Games of the Antiquity. The deadline was the end of December 1954 and there were 387 entries from 39 countries.
The selection took place during the IOC session, which was held in Monte Carlo in April 1955. In the jury participated some of the greatest composers and interpreters of that time, like Pablo Casals and . Nobokof. The winner was the Polish composer Michal Spisak, whose composition was presented for the first time as the official Olympic anthem several months later, during the Mediterranean Games held in Barcelona. In the following year the Olympic anthem was presented in the Winter Olympics, held in Cortina and then in the Summer Olympics, which for the first time were held in two cities: in Melbourne in November and in Stockholm in June (only the equestrian events).
Although the Olympic anthem by Spisak was positively received by the spectators and the participants in the Games, the IOC, during the session of 1958 (Tokyo), revoked its own choice and adopted the anthem that had been composed for the first modern Olympics. As a result, the anthem created by Samaras and Palamas was presented as the permanent and official Olympic Anthem in the 1960 Rome Olympics and has accompanied ever since all the Olympic organizations.

 

The Olympic Games in Antiquity:
From ancient Olympia to Athens of 1896