Changing China

Giant on the move

Is superstition the backbone of the Olympics?

July 11, 2008

Wariner crosses finish line winning his men’s 400 meters semifinal heat at U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in EugeneOne thing every athlete will take into the competition arena in Beijing this summer is superstition.

After four years of sometimes excruciating training, athletes have difficulty accepting that the difference between winning and losing can be decided by sheer luck. But that’s the case. So little separates the top athletes that a medal can be decided by who’s in a better mood, who had a nicer ride to the stadium or who got a nicer good luck call from back home.

Sport is not an exact science. You can win every race for four years but you’re still not guaranteed an Olympic gold. You don’t control you fate as on any given day, any athlete can beat another. Given these risks, people inevitably turn to the supernatural.

In the beginning, I had lucky safety pins for attaching the competition number. They meant so much that I once searched through the garbage for them when my mother tossed them out. They worked for years but a string of bad races made me realize that I probably overused the pins and diluted the luck.

To avoid the problem of overuse, I next found lucky shorts, a fast and a slow pair. The idea was that I didn’t need to run fast every time and the selective use of the fast shorts would get me though the big ones.

Others athletes I knew relied on religion, jewelry, tattoos or anything else that could be “smuggled” past stadium security. Some athletes believe in routine. One runner I knew thought he couldn’t run a good race if he didn’t follow the exact same warm up routine every single time.A countdown clock shows 100 days before the opening of the 2008 Beijing Olympics in Beijing

When my lucky shorts failed, I turned to socks. And they worked like a charm. They got me through two Olympic Games, national records, and grand prix meets. They’re still kept separately and will one day go up on the wall in a frame.

Oh, if I had only found them sooner! The question remains, though: would I have run faster if I hadn’t washed them?

Balazs Koranyi was an Olympic semi-finalist at the 1996 and 2000 Games for Hungary and since 2004 has been a Budapest-based correspondent, covering mainly political and business news. He will cover the Beijing Games for Reuters.  

Superstition? World champion 400 metres runner Jeremy Wariner says he will never run without his trademark sunglasses. The Beijing Olympics will open at 8pm on 8.8.2008. Eight is considered a lucky number in China. Pictures by Gary Hershorn (top) and Grace Liang. 


Interesting point. Human culture has been steeped in superstition (or the ‘belief in magic’) from the earliest times. We are concious that our fate is not all in our own hands. It is the flip side to the wonder of life and its potential beauty.


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