Though the Olympic Games’ feature all kinds of music, there is at least one piece that you’ll hear at every opening and closing ceremony when the Olympic flag is raised, or lowered: the Olympic Hymn, also known as the Olympic Anthem. This Olympic Anthem is traditionally used to represent the IOC Refugee Olympic Team.


Who wrote the Olympic hymn and when?

The hymn, which is also known as the Olympic Anthem, was composed by the Greek opera composer Spyridon Samaras (b1861 on Corfu) and features an original libretto by the Greek poet Kostis Palamas. The pair were commissioned to write the hymn for the first Modern Olympic Games, which took place in Athens in 1896. However, it wasn’t formally adopted by the International Olympic Committee as the official anthem of the Olympic movement until 1958.

Why does the Refugee Olympic team use this Olympic anthem?

Given that the participating refugee sports men and women don’t have a specific national identity, they are represented by the Olympic flag and the Olympic Hymn. This has caused some controversy, however, for refugee campaigners. A bespoke flag was designed and a new anthem composed (by Syrian refugee composer Moutaz Arian) when the team first competed in Rio in 2016, but their efforts were not officially recognised by the IOC. So, for now, the team continues to be represented by the Olympic flag and anthem.

What are the words to the Olympic Hymn in English?

Olympian flame immortal
Whose beacon lights our way
Emblaze our hearts with the fires of hope
On this momentous day
As now we come across the world
To share these Games of old
Let all the flags of every land
In brotherhood unfold
Sing out each nation, voices strong
Rise up in harmony
All hail our brave Olympians
With strains of victory
Olympic light burn on and on
O'er seas and mountains and plains
Unite, inspire, bring honour
To these ascending games
May valour reign victorious
Along the path of golden way
As tomorrow's new champions now come forth
Rising to the fervent spirit of the game
Let splendour pervade each noble deed
Crowned with glory and fame
And let fraternity and fellowship
Surround the soul of every nation
Oh flame, eternal in your firmament so bright
Illuminate us with your everlasting light
That grace and beauty and magnificence
Shine like the sun
Blazing above
Bestow on us your honour, truth and love

What else did Spyridon Samaras compose?

Samaras was one of the most highly regarded Greek composers of the mid-late 19th century and he is otherwise best known for being a composer of opera. Though Greek, he spent some years studying in Paris (with Delibes and Gounod, among others) and then headed to Italy, where he wrote the likes of Medgé, La martire and Flore mirabilis. He continued to write after returning to Athens in the early 20th century; his last opera was Tigra. He also wrote piano music.

Aren't there other 'Olympic Hymns'?

Yes there are a few, including two written in the 1930s by composers Richard Strauss (for the 1936 Berlin Olympics) and Walter Bradley-Keeler (for the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics). Leonard Bernstein penned his own Olympic Hymn for the 1981 International Olympic Congress.


Got Olympic fever? Find the lyrics to some of the different national anthems here and get ready to sing them with gusto


Michael BeekReviews Editor, BBC Music Magazine

Michael is the Reviews Editor of BBC Music Magazine. He was previously a freelance film music journalist and spent 15 years at St George's Bristol. Michael specialises in film and television music and was the Editor of He has written for the BBC Proms, BBC Concert Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, Hollywood in Vienna and Silva Screen Records.