Ath­letes seek­ing good luck with undies, per­fume, cook­ies, socks

OLYMPICS | Su­per­sti­tions can re­duce com­peti­tors’ anx­i­ety

Chicago Sun-Times - - Easy - BY ME­GAN K. SCOTT AND NI­CHOLAS K. GERANIOS

Years of train­ing, spe­cial di­ets and elite coach­ing may not be enough to win an Olympic medal. That’s when ath­letes turn to spe­cial socks, pic­tures of their kids or for­tune cook­ies.

Su­per­sti­tion runs deep in hu­mans, even those jocks seek­ing to rep­re­sent the United States in the Van­cou­ver Olympics. Many are looking for a slight edge, and some­times they look in some strange places.

“If I have a good race, what­ever socks I’m wear­ing, what­ever turtle­neck I’m wear­ing, that tends to be the go-to,” said ski crosser Casey Puck­ett. “It gen­er­ally is the un­der­gar­ments.

“I like to be­lieve in the skill and pre­pared­ness,” Puck­ett said. “But at the same time, I do rec­og­nize that there is a bit of luck that comes into it.”

Some­times it’s bad luck, as Puck­ett’s push to make his fifth Olympics is in jeop­ardy af­ter a se­vere shoul­der in­jury in France.

Speed skater Chad Hedrick puts his faith in for­tune cook­ies.

“Be­fore the 2006 games, a for­tune said, ‘Your golden op­por­tu­nity is com­ing soon,’ ” said Hedrick, who went on to win gold, sil­ver and bronze medals in Turin.

He tends to keep the for­tunes he likes, with a sup­ply of 25 to 30 on hand.

Su­per­sti­tion and sport have been linked for­ever. You have base­ball play­ers who refuse to dis­cuss a no-hit­ter in progress. Some ten­nis play­ers refuse to hold three balls in one hand. Golfers be­lieve car­ry­ing coins in their pock­ets is good luck.

Skele­ton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace keeps a pic­ture of her 2-year-old daugh­ter in her hel­met and a trac­ing in marker of the child’s hand prints on her sled.

“I al­ways kiss my hand and then slap her hand like I’m giv­ing her five,” she said.

Skier Michelle Roark wears the same per­fume to each race, and makes the scent her­self. That was af­ter her sports psy­chol­o­gist sug­gested she vi­su­al­ize ski­ing well with all five of your senses be­fore events. She found she could hear, see, taste and feel suc­cess, but not smell it.

“I had no idea what it smelled like to ski well,” she said.

Dis­sat­is­fied with fra­grances she tried, she started her own all-nat­u­ral per­fume and cologne man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany called Phi­nom­i­nal.

Sports psy­chol­o­gist Jerry May of Meadow Vista, Calif., said su­per­sti­tions don’t re­ally help per­for­mance.

“There is no ev­i­dence that shows that per­fume makes you a bet­ter skater or skier or curler,” May said.

Per­for­mance coach Jonathan Katz has a more benev­o­lent view. He said su­per­sti­tions can re­duce anx­i­ety and give ath­letes some­thing they can con­trol.

“I don’t have a prob­lem with su­per­sti­tions as long as they don’t be­come too cum­ber­some,” Katz said.

Sports psy­chol­o­gist Sam Ma­niar of Cleve­land said com­pe­ti­tion rou­tines — such as a base­ball player swing­ing the bat the same num­ber of times be­fore step­ping into the box — are more valu­able than su­per­sti­tions.

Such rou­tines keep them fo­cused on the mo­ment, rather than wan­der­ing to the past or fu­ture, he said.

Su­per­sti­tions also can be a hin­drance, Ma­niar said.

“If your su­per­sti­tion is you only per­form well on a sunny day, and it’s not a sunny day, that’s a prob­lem,” he said.

Cross coun­try skier Liz Stephen solves that by ro­tat­ing a cou­ple pairs of lucky socks, but wears the same gloves for races. She re­al­izes that seems silly.

“I think the more su­per­sti­tious you get, the harder it is to just re­mem­ber that you are out there to race,” she said.

For that rea­son, cross coun­try skier Billy De­mong “threw su­per­sti­tion out the win­dow a long time ago. Rit­u­als al­ways get in the way, ” he said.

“I think su­per­sti­tions and lucky charms are for peo­ple that don’t have con­fi­dence,” said freestyle skier Jeret “Speedy” Peter­son.”

Peter­son knows some­thing about luck. In 2006 he took $550,000 he won dur­ing one night at the black­jack ta­ble and sank it into real es­tate. Then the real es­tate bub­ble burst and he filed for bank­ruptcy in 2007. But the 28-year-old has made his third U.S. Olympic freestyle ski­ing team.

AP

SKIP STE­WART~AP

“If I have a good race, what­ever socks I’m wear­ing, what­ever turtle­neck I’m wear­ing, that tends to be the go-to,” said ski crosser com­peti­tor Casey Puck­ett, seek­ing his fifth Olympics. “It gen­er­ally is the un­der­gar­ments.”

CHARLES REX ARBOGAST~AP

Freestyle com­peti­tor Michelle Roark wears the same per­fume to each race, and makes the scent her­self. “I had no idea what it smelled like to ski well,” she said.

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