Medal-Winning Music from Olympic Gymnastics
August 21st, 2012
It’s been weeks since the London Olympics ended in a grand musical showcase, but I still miss the games. Since I can no longer oooo and aaah as athletes tumble and sprint, I started looking into the music the gymnasts use in competition. In a sport full of rigorous, highly technical physical feats, elements of dance and song are also integral to the routine. The competitors demonstrate their athleticism through their movements, and express their individuality through their song choices.
Specifically, female gymnasts competing in the floor exercise choreograph their routines to minute-and-a-half instrumental song clips. These music selections vary from classical to pop to hip-hop and beyond. (Male gymnasts leap and twirl in silence, while female gymnasts must continue to adhere to the pretense of dancing, decked out with perfect hair and makeup.)
This year’s winner of the floor exercise, Aly Raisman, performed to “Hava Nagila.” The familiar, catchy rhythm of the traditional Jewish song had the audience clapping along when she earned her gold. She later explained that she also chose the song because of her Jewish heritage and to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich games.
All-around gold medal winner Gabby Douglas brought pop and hip-hop to the mix with a medley of “Memories (F**k Me I’m Famous Remix)” by David Guetta featuring KiD CuDi and “We No Speak Americano” by Yolanda Be Cool & DCUP.
Among the other competitors, Elsa Garcia Rodriguez Blancas from Mexico performed to the theme from the video game “The Legend of Zelda.” The longtime video gamer chose the music with the help of her sister, who detailed the experience in an article for Kotaku. The gymnast explained the process of picking the song, “At first I didn’t recognize it but it sounded so familiar…Then it kinda grew on me and I loved the violin interpretation and how I could work my gymnastics styling with that kind of music.” Though she didn’t win any medals, she won the hearts of video game fans around the world.
Her sister writes, “Overnight she went from the best gymnast Mexico has ever had to poster child for blending beautiful athleticism and awesome video game soundtrack music.” The version Garcia danced to was arranged by violinist Lindsey Stirling.
Check out the original video game soundtrack here:
Not only do songs vary from competitor to competitor, but music styles also vary for each gymnast from year to year. Earlier in 2012, Romania’s Catalina Ponor performed to “Lux Aeterna” by Clint Mansell (from the movie Requiem for a Dream), and then won the silver in London to “Fever,” made popular by jazz singer Peggy Lee.
Viktoria Komova from Russia danced her floor routine to a remix of “Swan Lake” in the past, and this year she won the bronze performing to a combination of “You Know I’m No Good” by Amy Winehouse and “The Show Must Go On” by Queen. In 2008, Romania’s Sandra Izbașa won the gold with “Taniec Eleny” by Michał Lorenc. In 2012 she went for classic British rock and competed to “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” by Pink Floyd.
This year’s top British contender Beth Tweedle performed with a version of the Live or Let Die movie theme, playing up the local British pride and the James Bond cool factor.
Commercial interests almost interfered with a song selection for the 2000 Olympics. When Australian competitor Allana Slater planned to perform to singer-songwriter Paul Allen’s popular tune “I Still Call Australia Home,” Olympic sponsor Ansett Airlines tried to ban it because rival airline Quantas used the song in its commercials. She ultimately won the right to use the song.
In 1976, legendary gymnast Nadia Comanici won the gold with a floor exercise performed to a medley of “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” and “Jump in the Line” arranged for piano. However, a different song became associated with her gymnastics career. After Henry Mancini’s composition was used as incidental music for a gymnastics highlight reel, it became known as “Nadia’s Song.” (You may also recognize it as the theme song for the soap opera The Young and the Restless.)
Gymnastics has inspired musicians and film directors in addition to yours truly. Spike Jonze directed the music video for “Elektrobank” by the electronic music duo, The Chemical Brothers. The video starred Sofia Coppola as a young gymnast performing her routine to layers of beats. As the music slows and darkens, she rallies to overcome injury. The song resolves as she triumphs over her rival.
I may have to wait until 2016 for more Olympic gymnastics, but in the meantime I will have the athleticism, music, and artistry of 2014 Olympic figure skating to enjoy.
(Photo by dearbarbie on Flickr.)