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GANGNEUNG, South Korea – What links the “Hawaii Five-O” theme, a Korean-language cover of Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend,” and 1990s novelty song “I Wanna Drive the Zamboni”?
They’re all part of the eclectic and occasionally bizarre mix of music playing at the main Olympic hockey arena.
Gangneung Hockey Center disc jockey Lee Seung-joon has a long and varied playlist aimed at serving all 12 countries playing in the men’s tournament.
“This is our first Winter Olympics and we really want to show that we welcome everyone, all the teams, and that this is a hockey event,” said Lee, who got a taste for hockey while studying in the United States. “The music here is much more diverse because we have more teams coming from different countries.”
Out of a list of 5,000 songs approved by organizers for use at venues, Lee added he tries to focus on big-name acts and hockey songs popular in the various competing countries.
During one game, the tracks played for successive stoppages were Chumbawumba’s 1997 hit “Tubthumping” – think “I get knocked down, but I get up again” – followed by “Zorba the Greek” and Alien Ant Farm’s version of “Smooth Criminal.”
Lee adds that some teams have specific requests too, like the Russians’ request to play a version of Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were The Days” whenever they score. Why? It shares a tune with a well-known traditional Russian song, and on Friday it rang out eight times as the Russians pounded Slovenia.
Sometimes Lee is playing to banks of empty seats due to the comparatively low attendance in decidedly not hockey-mad South Korea. Sometimes the people in the seats have their own playlist.
When South Korea played the Czech Republic in its opening men’s hockey game Thursday, around 200 North Korean cheerleaders were ushered into the arena to support the South Koreans. That would have been hard to imagine before the recent warming of relations between the two Koreas around the Olympics.
The North Korean women sang their own songs of support as they moved in unison, with South Korean fans sometimes joining in chants. But it was sometimes a struggle to make themselves heard over the R&B-heavy mix playing over the arena sound system during stoppages.
During the second intermission, however, the music stopped and the North Koreans sang in harmony to the Gangneung Hockey Center. They finished, the crowd applauded, and the DJ’s playlist resumed.