Hungarians longing for the first Olympic win did not have to wait long to jump for joy: in the individual sabre event fencer Áron Szilágyi quickly delivered what is hoped to be the first of many gold medals, but there is no joy without alloy, it seems. As the nation’s flag was hoisted, organisers played a version of the Hungarian national anthem that hit a sour note, slighting Hungarians across the globe.
Local organisations and even the National Olympic Committee (MOB) in Hungary quickly demanded the anthem to be changed. “MOB immediately requested the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to change the wrong anthem, which was allowed by LOCOG’s international director,” a statement released by MOB said.
Hungarians were not the only ones displeased with London’s rendition of their anthem. When the Dutch cyclist Marianne Vos won her country’s first gold medal, supporters from the Netherlands were shocked to hear how different their national song sounded. “According to scholars, the new arrangement contains fifth and eighth parallel notes which have no place in classical music,” the website dutchnews.nl reported.
Apparently the more than 200 anthems were recorded about a year ago by the London Philharmonic Orchestra in only six days, then presented as a gift to the International Olympic Committee.
With fast-paced television broadcasts, organisers made alterations for anthems to fit the 60-90 seconds (according to Olympic guidelines) allowed for the flag-raising ceremony. “Each of the 205 recordings had to have a unique arrangement created for the Olympics,” conductor and composer Philip Sheppard explained to the BBC. “It’s for two reasons, one is artistic – to create a faithful (version) but redesigned with a fresh spin. The other reason is legal – you don’t want to replicate a previous arrangement.”
Songs that go south
Although somewhat annoyed, Hungary was not the worst off. The national anthem of Uruguay for example had to be cut down from eight minutes to fit the allocated time frame.
Anthem gaffes are not unknown for sports enthusiasts. When in March the Kazakh shooter Mariya Dmitriyenko won at the Arab Shooting Championship in Kuwait, she was forced to listen to a spoof version of her country’s anthem taken from the movie Borat.
Nor was this Hungary’s first anthem-debacle either. Last August at the kayak-canoe world championships in Szeged, organisers played the first – instead of the third – stanza of the German anthem, which in Germany is considered to have been the anthem of the Nazi regime.
Hungarian fans did not have to wait long to see whether LOCOG would be true to its promise. After odds-on favourite of the 200 metre breaststroke event Dániel Gyurta defeated Britain’s Michael Jamieson and Japan’s Ryo Tateishi with a world record time on Wednesday, everybody was anxiously awaiting the medal ceremony. Fortunately the three days between the two gold medals was enough for organisers to find a version with the classic tune composed by Ferenc Erkel.