Very superstitious: Olympians woo Lady Luck with rituals

By Sarika Dani and Ian Sager

When four years of training leads up to a single moment, Olympians want luck on their side. For the superstitious ones, that means practicing rituals they know and trust.

Lee Jin-man / AP

U.S. swimmer Brendan Hansen always checks the water's temperature before competing.

For example: Swimmer Brendan Hansen, who won bronze in the 100m breaststroke, checks the pool water’s temperature before racing. “I always put my hand in the water to see how cold it is,” he said. “I’ve done it since I was a little kid. It calms me down. It seems to work!”

Triathlete Hunter Kemper likely watches what he puts into his body during competition, but the night before a race, he liked to relax with one of his favorites: a slice of pizza. “It was kind of a pre-race ritual. I just love pizza anyways…so it was an excuse to eat [it],” he told

Sarika Dani / NBC News

Triathlete Hunter Kemper's pre-race preparation used to involve pizza.

But as his career took him to more far-flung locales, Kemper eventually retired his pizza practice: “I couldn’t always find it in international places, so I didn’t want that to be the thing, you know?”

So now that pizza’s out of the picture, Kemper said his current rule is to never train two days before his race, a practice he adopted years ago.

For divers Kelci Bryant and Abby Johnston, who earned the U.S. its first synchronized diving medal, their common ritual comes down to a bath toy.

“We have shared custody of a rubber duck named Alfred. He made the trip across the pond with us,” Johnston told “When we started training together, we realized we both liked rubber ducks. So we adopted Alfred.”

Joe Scarnici / Getty Images

A rubber duck must be good luck for synchronized divers Abby Johnston and Kelci Bryant: Their silver medal is the USA's first Olympic medal in the event.

Like a real duck, Alfred doesn’t stay put. “When we train, we put him between our bags so he can watch us,” Johnston explained.

The little yellow duck even made the trip across the pond for the Olympics, but he didn’t come along to the TODAY set with the divers when they appeared on the show Monday.

“He’s in the village, waiting for us to return,” Johnston said.

Sarika Dani and Ian Sager are covering the Olympics for They've been eating press center food each day in London, but not for luck.

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Discuss this post

In professional skating, we call them 'goodies'. You HAVE to do them. Otherwise someone, namely you, might fall. And you never make fun when someone falls. Or you will fall next.
I'd share some of our goodies, but most of them were quite crass, and they have no meaning to anyone but us. We still do them too, even though we are all countries apart. We just have to type them out.

    Reply#1 - Thu Aug 2, 2012 2:14 PM EDT

    Why not include all the superstitious finger crossing, doing the sign of the cross, point to the sky, drinking/spitting pool water, kissing a religious necklace, giving credit to God that the victory was "part of his plan", and all the littlce OCD touch this X-number of times, apply chalk to left foot then right foot, blah, blah, blah etc.???

    All superstitious.

      Reply#2 - Thu Aug 2, 2012 6:22 PM EDT

      Think they are bad? You should see Pro Hockey players. Everything from wearing specific items, to putting gear on in a certain manner, to warm up exercises, to being the last/first one on/off the ice.

        Reply#3 - Thu Aug 2, 2012 10:32 PM EDT
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