By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to icenetwork.com
Join Sarah Brannen and Drew Meekins' for a special Friday the 13th edition of The Inside Edge
Figure skating can be unpredictable. It's a sport where winning the program doesn't necessarily mean that you've captured the title, so it's natural to try and create a little luck on your side. In honor of Friday the 13th, we're contemplating the extremely irrational but effective superstitions of elite skaters.
We have to admit that this idea came to us after hearing that ultra jock manly man and New York Yankee superstar Jason Giambi wears a gold-lamé tiger-print thong when he's in a slump, and even lends it to slumping teammates. Apparently, he's had it for over ten years and says it works every time...!
Well, we don't know if we could get anyone to admit to something like that, but skaters are known for having their own quirky superstitions too. No doubt it has something to do with your entire career coming down to four minutes balancing on a narrow piece of steel. On ice. Here's what we uncovered:
I always wear a gold crescent-moon pendant given to me by Stevie Nicks in 1979. The only time I didn't wear it was before the short program at the Olympics, and... enough said. (Tai tells the whole story below).
I always put my left skate on first. Every time!
I try to step on the ice only with the left foot. And I always put my guards next to each other on the boards, very close to each other, and like a control freak, they have to be perfect, and if someone is touching them it's bad luck.
I don't really have any superstitions. I'm sure Meryl has some, although I've never really asked what they were lest they were contagious.
I have a pretty constant warm-up routine that's kind of become ritual. Going through my own process of getting warmed-up helps to calm my nerves. I also have a few things I'll say to Charlie, as we're getting ready to take the ice, that have become habit. After twelve years of skating together, I know he already knows what I'm telling him; it's more for my own peace of mind!
I have a little thing when I go to competitions with my breakfasts. Actually most of my fellow U.S. teammates know this, but I normally bring my breakfast food to whatever competition no matter what country I am in. Lately, I have been bringing my Cheerios with oat clusters (so amazing), and packets of oatmeal. I am not sure if it is a superstition or a security, but I need my breakfasts.
I always "pinky swing" with my coaches and my mother before I compete. It's something I got from my previous coach Peggy Behr. It's been part of my routine since I was seven or eight.
I clean my hotel room before competition and I'm totally obsessive about it. Themi (Leftheris) and I read inspirational quotes before we compete.
I always tie up my left skate first. It's not really a superstition but it's a well-rutted habit.
When I was younger, I carried a stuffed animal in my skating bag. It was a Hello Kitty, lol. Now, I would say my most routine habit/nervous twitch I do and have done since I was young, is to fold my skating sweater a certain way. I guess you can say I like to keep it neat and not messy.
I always travel with two stuffed animals, one from my friend that was a birthday present for good luck and the other is a Webkinz from my little sister. I just shove them in my suitcase for good luck.
Christine "Tuffy" Hough:
I had to have everything laid out just right on the benches. Skates, cloth, all exactly the same order every time. And I had to have a piece of chocolate before I competed!
My coach taught me that it's all about the work and not to have superstitions. However, when the Red Sox blew the playoffs in 2003, my whole Grand Prix series was screwed.
This is so embarrassing. When I was a kid, eight or ten, I used to have these two little Beanie Babies that had to "watch" me skate while I competed! I used to make my Dad hold them facing the ice.
My mom always sewed a gold moon and star on the sleeve of my costume, from when I was little, all the way up to senior.
When I was growing up in Japan, I ate Katsudon the night before the competition, because katsu means "to win." (Katsudon is a popular Japanese food, a bowl of rice topped with a deep-fried pork cutlet, egg, and condiments). I always put my left skate on first, and I prayed all night, all day, all the time.
(1991 United States pair champion with Todd Sand, now a long-time member of Disney on Ice): I always put the left skate on first...never the right! I have a set mini warm-up/prep that I still do! I always envision every jump as a perfect executed jump, or element.
Patti Weir (Johnny's mother):
I wear a necklace that Johnny gave me, and many many bracelets. I start out each season with a long and short outfit, and how he skates that particular day determines if my outfit is totally changed or just tweaked. I once left a cashmere sweater in Russia in a closet because I just knew it had bad luck attached to it.
Bonnie Gilles (mother of Todd, Piper and Alexe Gilles):
I used to not watch Todd compete. I would go outside and walk around the building and wait until his music was over. My stomach would feel just awful. However, when we moved to Colorado I stopped doing that. I felt that my kids were really prepared and that if they could do what they were doing, I had to be there for them in the good and the bad.
And, of course, us!
Drew: I play favorites with my left skate when lacing up as well, and I really like to stick to my normal routine when getting ready to go compete. However, I think the strangest thing is that I like anything involving numbers to be set to an odd number. For example, I always set my TV volume on an odd number of loudness before bed, and I do things an odd number of times when I warm up and even when I am getting ready. I don't really know where this came from, something inside me just told me it would work. The number 1 is odd though, so I think it has something to do with that.
Drew's Mom Nancy:
I always wear the same pair of earrings at competitions. I do a lot of things in eights too. I clap for each competitor exactly eight times, no more, no less.
I always put my right skate on first, which Drew says makes me a freak. I am very superstitious about commenting on runs of good fortune, like mentioning how long it has been since I last fell. I think that's really asking for trouble.
Tai and the good-luck pendant
Here's the story Tai Babilonia told us: "My good-luck charm was given to me in the summer of 1979, after Randy and I won the world championships. We got a message at our rink from Stevie Nicks, that she wanted to come by and give us some gifts. She loves dance and skating and she had watched us on TV.
"The message came in to Mr. Nicks' secretary, and we were like, 'Are you kidding?' Because we were both big Fleetwood Mac fans. The day arrived and we waited, and waited, and waited. She didn't come, and we thought it had to have been a hoax, one of our friends playing a joke on us, so we left.
"Two hours later, Stevie showed up, swirling in red chiffon, with all kinds of gifts for us and a 24-karat crescent moon gold pendant for me. So I got the moon, I put it on, and I wore it all the time. The night of the short program at the 1980 Olympics (which they called the compulsory program then) Mr. Nicks said to take the necklace off, because it might get caught in my costume or something. So, reluctantly, I took it off... and, well, enough said. (Tai and Randy were forced to withdraw from the competition, due to Randy's groin injury).
"I haven't taken it off since. It is on me as I speak. I'm very superstitious about it! If I have to do a photo shoot and the photographer doesn't want it in the picture, I pin it to the inside of my clothes.
"We tell the whole story in our book, Forever Two As One
, which Stevie Nicks wrote the forward to."
And one more, from a writer:
It has been so fun asking skaters about their superstitions that we've started asking all our friends what theirs are. One of our favorite people, Newbery-winning children's author and skating fan Linda Sue Park tells this story:
"Last year, packing for a work trip, I was scrambling around the house looking for a specific blue plastic folder in which I always put my itinerary. I looked for ages and couldn't find it anywhere. Hearing my, um, inappropriate language as I slammed cupboard doors and desk drawers, my husband joined in the search. He found another folder, almost identical. 'Here, honey,' he said. 'You can use this one.'
'No,' I said. 'It has to be that blue one.' And I went back to tearing apart the bookshelves.
'But this one is just fine,' he said. 'I don't understand-'
'IT HAS TO BE THE BLUE ONE.'
'BECAUSE IT KEEPS THE PLANE FROM CRASHING.'
I first started using that folder in 2002, the year A Single Shard
won the Newbery. It has gone everywhere with me, including trips to Brazil, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Korea. Dozens of flights -- maybe even hundreds -- and I've always come home safely.
Clearly it's because of the folder, and don't try to convince me otherwise."
When Linda Sue watches skating on TV, she says, "I always want all of them to do great, and no one to fall, and then the best one to win."
And that's probably what we're all hoping for, actually. Good luck to everyone, with everything,
Sarah and Drew
To contact Sarah and Drew, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org