Pre-Game  Rituals
Six-Packs, Socks, and   Other Superstitions

By Tess Jewell-Larsen

It’s one week before a regatta and Warren Anderson has stopped shaving and won’t cut his hair. Part of him believes it will help him win a race, while another part of him realizes it’s just superstition. But who wants to mess with superstition when an eventual Olympic gold medal might be on the line?  “I think not cutting my hair or shaving was from talking about it back in college,” he says, “the whole Samson and Delilah type of thing.”

When it comes to pre-event rituals, Anderson’s not alone. Rowers often have quirky routines that they find can help them — or at least encourage them — to get in peak form for regattas or erg tests. Some rituals are practical, while others are tied to superstitions.

Many rowers experiment, regularly picking up new pre-event traditions and dropping others. Anderson, for example, started rowing during his freshman year at Loyola Marymount University and has competed at the national and international levels since 2002. When he started training with the US Men’s Team, he would buy a six-pack of beer two days before an erg test. That night, two nights before the test, he would drink five of the beers because they helped him sleep, and then he wouldn’t drink the last one until after the test. “And that [ritual] always worked — until it didn’t,” he says.

Nareg Guregian is an Olympic hopeful who finished fourth in the pair with coxswain at the 2010 World Rowing Championships. Back in his freshman year of college, he and his boat mates finished first in a race, all wearing black socks. For the next two years, Guregian always wore black socks for a race. That is, until junior year came around and one of the races in Sacramento was on a very hot day. “It was like 110 degrees,” he remembers, “so I thought I’d dip my feet in the water before the race. I did that race without socks on, and we won. I was like, oh, maybe I don’t need that to win.” Since then, Guregian says he hasn’t felt the need to engage in any superstitious rituals before a race. Instead, he has more practical routines: “I just warm up and maybe watch some races, just to get in the mood a bit.”

Wes Piermarini, a 2008 Beijing Olympian, has a specific routine he does before every race. It may not be as exciting or superstitious as other rowers’ rituals, but it works for him. He eats oatmeal. If it’s an early morning event, he gets up three hours beforehand to take a shower, goes for a little walk to get his blood moving, and then eats breakfast. Raw oatmeal smothered in runny yogurt is his favorite meal before a race. “It doesn’t really work so well with Irish Oatmeal, because it’s hard, but with rolled oats it works,” he says. If Piermarini can’t have yogurt, then he eats it with milk.Of course, all this depends on the location of the event and whether his breakfast of choice is even available. 

Whatever their pre-game rituals or routines, these athletes find ways to help them get ready for any contingency. Head Coach Tim McLaren has a whiteboard in the boathouse where he posts training guides and practice schedules.  Written across the top of the whiteboard are these words: “Every day you need to ask yourself, what do I need to do to get a gold medal? And what do I need to do to succeed?” For some rowers, these little rituals play a part.