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Greece is struggling, but Vangelis is having a good Olympics thanks to “Chariots of Fire”

Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou, Vangelis, has his Chariots of Fire theme played throughout the Games.It hasn't been a great Olympics for Greece in general, as the country's only earned one bronze medal (from the Homerically-named Ilias Iliadis in the 90-kilogram middleweight men's judo event). However, there's been plenty of Greek-composed music heard during the medal ceremonies even when they're not on the podium. Famed Greek composer Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou, better known as Vangelis, has become one of the Games' key figures thanks to his omnipresent "Chariots of Fire" theme. The theme was a crucial part of the opening ceremonies, featuring Rowan Atkinson of Blackadder and Mr. Bean fame pounding away on a synthesizer and running along the beach in a pitch-perfect parody of the film's legendary opening scene, and it's gone on to further prominence as the official theme song for these Olympics, being played during every medal ceremony.

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From many standpoints, the Chariots of Fire theme is a great choice as the theme for these games. The 1981 film remains one of the most famous movies ever made about the Olympics, and the four Oscars it won (including Best Picture) speak to its quality in general. It also tells a fascinating story about two British runners, English Jew Harold Abrahams and Scottish Christian Eric Liddell, and their paths to success at the 1924 Games. Sure, there are some historical inaccuracies involved, but it's tough to think of a movie that's a better story of British Olympians. Plus, the title's a reference to William Blake's poem "And did those feet in ancient time", which was turned into the hymn Jerusalem, which was also sung at the Opening Ceremonies. There's a story of triumph over adversity in the Chariots of Fire theme, too, as Vangelis' music almost didn't make it into the film, but it went on to win a soundtrack Oscar, become well-known worldwide and gain a firm association with sports. It will undoubtedly will ring familiar for many.

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If there's a problem here, it might just be that familiarity. The theme's so ubiquitous that it's been co-opted for just about everything by this point, including Steve Jobs' public introduction of the first Macintosh. Here are a few of the better Internet versions of it, starting with an overdub on The Two Towers' Battle of Helm's Deep:

How about the famed skateboard chase in Back to the Future?

And it gets even better when actually used in other movies, such as the 1994 film Junior (yes, the one where soon-to-be-Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger got pregnant):

Of course, seeing as this is the Olympics, the most apt reference of all may be when Will Ferrell performed rhythmic gymnastics to the theme in Old School:

Still, it's rare to get a theme that works on both a sincere level and a humourous one, so it's hard to complain too much about this. It's nice to see Vangelis (who also composed the Blade Runner soundtrack) doing well, too. At least London didn't go with Alan Frew and "I Believe"...


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