BBC Music is changing. Find out more

The kind of songs that are anointed as official Olympics anthems - think Whitney Houston's One Moment in Time for Seoul 1988 or Katy Perry's Rise for Rio this year - tend to be broad-brushstrokes power ballads about doing your best, seizing your moment and reaching for the skies. But there's rarely a sense that the singers involved have any real affection for Olympic sport. It's hard to imagine Celine Dion (Power of the Dream, Atlanta 1996) getting up at the crack of dawn to watch the kayaking heats in her pajamas.

But there are pop stars out there who have chosen to display their love for the Olympics by featuring their favourite sport in one of their videos - occasionally even getting involved themselves. Only once you've seen Simon Le Bon on a sailboat or Gary Barlow squeezed into his rowing shorts can you know the true nature of Olympic sporting passion. With the BBC's coverage of the Olympics kicking off on Friday, here are the 12 music videos that are truly going for gold.

[Warning: third-party content may contain adverts]

1. Pointer Sisters - Jump, 1984 (athletics)

Back in the nascent years of the pop video, directorial interpretations of songs tended to be less than outlandish, so when a treatment was sent over to The Pointer Sisters for their song Jump requiring lots of athletes jumping, it's unlikely anyone pooh-poohed it for being too literal. Considering it would become a huge Pointer Sisters' hit, it was a surprising third-choice single from their 1983 album Break Out; surprising, until you remember the Los Angeles Olympics took place in 1984. It's as if somebody at their label knew what they were doing.

2. Avicii - Broken Arrows, 2015 (high jump)

The story of high jumping, or more pertinently the story of Dick Fosbury and how he revolutionised the event, is the narrative that runs through this Julius Onah-directed Avicii video from 2015. Fosbury was an average athlete, but through persistence, he perfected the technique that would become known as the Fosbury Flop - winning a gold medal at the Olympics in 1968 - and becoming one of the most influential athletes in the history of track and field. Broken Wings certainly didn't flop; Avicii's unholy marriage of country and EDM has clocked up 33m views on YouTube.

3. Bombay Bicycle Club - Luna, 2014 (synchronised swimming)

There was a certain amount of derision when synchronised swimming was introduced as an Olympic sport at the games in 1984. But what kind of a person decides dancing in tandem isn't difficult enough for them and tries it under water? That's right, an Olympian. In 2014, Bombay Bicycle Club had no such troubles; they took the day off, leaving director Anna Ginsburg to shoot Luna with the Aquabatix Synchronised Swimmers from London. Together they created a fantastical display complete with retro vintage costumes and shower caps with burning candles.

4. Take That - The Flood, 2010 (rowing)

In this thrilling 2010 video for The Flood, Take That take to the river for a well-contested boat race. While you're thinking they must have been a coxless four, Robbie Williams was actually back in the band at the time. Director Mat Whitecross shoots the boys powering down the Thames, past the Houses of Parliament and London Eye, and continuing out into the channel even after they've lost the race. Well, that's one way to save money on a European tour.

5. The Chemical Brothers - Elektrobank, 1997 (gymnastics)

Who is dis doin' this synthetic type of alpha beta psychedelic funkin'? The answer is Spike Jonze, making his first directorial appearance on this list, with his future wife - the film director Sofia Coppola - as a gymnast. Ed Gonzalez, writing for Slate Magazine, said the 1997 video is "that rare Jonze clip that transcends both concept and irony, and it is arguably his greatest music video". The Chemical Brothers left it off their Singles 93-03 collection (although a live version appears on the bonus disc), suggesting the duo thought less of the song.

6. Sum 41 - In Too Deep, 2001 (diving)

Can it really be 15 years since Sum 41 brought out the irrepressible In Too Deep? In 2001, an eight-year-old Tom Daley had only just started plunging in at the deep end of Plymouth Swimming Club. The video, directed by Marc Klasfeld, takes the song title literally and sets the scene at a diving competition, complete with jocks, judges and plenty of flying japes. It's a bit like a bawdy American sex comedy, without the sex. Or the comedy.

7. Duran Duran - Rio, 1982 (sailing)

When Simon Le Bon was a youngster he used to dream he'd grow up to be Jim Morrison. However, in the popular imagination as the singer of Duran Duran, he was less Doorsy and more outdoorsy. Certainly crashing his sailboat, Drum, off the coast of Cornwall in 1985 established him as the derring-do type, unafraid of adventure on the high seas. The image of Duran Duran sailing in the video for Rio is one that has stuck, and certainly upholds their reputation for the sort of flash excess that's synonymous with the 80s. This year the Olympics are being held in Rio, which is kinda spooky.

8. Haim - Don't Save Me, 2013 (basketball)

[Guidance: contains flashing images]

It may surprise some that basketball has been played at the Olympics since 1936 (by women since 1976). The sport was actually created out of thin air by the Presbyterian minister Dr James Naismith in 1891 to keep the youth occupied at a Massachusetts YMCA. Also possibly made up out of thin air was the video treatment for Don't Save Me, which was surely just a glorified excuse for Californian sisters Haim to play ball. But wait, there's this lyric: "Never thought that I would grow so old of seeing the gold."

9. Dinosaur Jr. - Feel The Pain, 1994 (golf)

"Golf is a good walk spoiled," goes the old saying variously attributed to Mark Twain, Winston Churchill and anyone else with a sly turn of phrase, but the Olympic Committee has, in its infinite wisdom, allowed Scotland's greatest pastime back into the games for the first time since 1904. In a brilliant 1994 video directed by Spike Jonze, Dinosaur Jr. prove you don't need any great expanses of green, a tee-off time or even a fairway to play golf, just the metropolis and woe betide anyone who gets in your way.

10. Sparks - Tips for Teens, 1981 (boxing)

The Cubans famously punch above their weight, having won 67 boxing medals over the years, including 34 golds, and they likely would have won more had they competed at the Los Angeles games. What if their withdrawal wasn’t down to the 1984 Summer Olympics boycott, but actually because they’d seen the 1981 video for Sparks’ Tips for Teens? After all, what nation wouldn’t run screaming having seen Ron and Russell Mael bobbing and weaving and putting up their dukes? Tips for Teens is taken from Sparks' electro opus Whomp That Sucker, recorded with Reinhold Mack at the studios of Giorgio Moroder.

11. Zak Abel - Everybody Needs Love, 2016 (table tennis)

The video to the recently released Everybody Needs Love is a classic of the "one shot" genre (think The Writing’s On The Wall by OK Go, Wannabe by the Spice Girls, Karma Police by Radiohead). Zak wins extra points for multi-tasking here, i.e. singing and playing some mean table tennis together for a whole three minutes without making any errors. Table tennis, or whiff whaff if you’re really posh, has featured at the Olympics since 1988, with the Chinese taking 24 of a possible 28 medals at the last seven Olympics. You'd not bet against them this time either.

12. The Jam - Absolute Beginners, 1981 (running)

Inspired by the Colin MacInnes book of the same name (before the film of the same name), Absolute Beginners was released in 1981, giving The Jam a No. 4 hit in the UK charts. Back then MTV had only just begun, and not many people watched it regularly, so it was quite reasonable for a video brief to say something like, “Make the band run about in the street a bit." Drummer Rick Buckler takes it rather seriously, donning go-faster stripes, while Bruce Foxton tears around like a young Zola Budd. Paul Weller, on the other hand, doesn't appear to be a very good runner at all.

Related links

Added item image
"
"
Added, go to My Music to see full list.
More from