BY JD PELEGRINO
Malik Metivier refuses to jump before a race. He just won’t do it. And the Drake University sophomore likes to jump. He runs 400 hurdles primarily, but also the 110 hurdles and is on the 4×4 team. He’s that rare combination of being fast as a leaper. But if he jumps before a race for warm-ups, it’s like he has lead in his feet. He claims that every time throughout his career he has jumped before his events, he has done a terrible job.
“I can’t describe for the life of me why that happens, but that’s the biggest ‘no’ I could ever have. I will never, the rest of my life, jump before a race. I just can’t jump,” Metivier said.
He’s too scared to even try it now.
Metivier isn’t alone in his odd superstition. Athletes, particularly track and field athletes, have unique pre-event rituals that, in their minds, might help them win.
Sanya Richards-Ross, a former-sprinter for the USA from 2004-2012, always had to wear the necklace with a bullet attached to it that her mother gave her because her mom told her that she was “faster than a speeding bullet.” Jillian Camarena-Williams threw shot put in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. She always had to wear a yellow ribbon her grandmother gave her around her ponytail.
Metivier doesn’t jump, but he does listen to opera–for 90 minutes before he warms up for each race. Opera and slow jazz. He said that he has a hard time focusing, especially during bus rides to meets. Early on in his career, someone recommended Metivier listen to this type of music to calm his central nervous system so it can “recharge” him for the race. Metivier said that this is the only way he can calm down his whole body to prepare for a race. One of his teammates, sophomore Max Harlan, might know why.
Writer Joe DeLessio wrote an article about athletes’ superstitions, where he cites George Gmelch for a more in-depth analysis. Gmelch is a professor of anthropology at the University of San Francisco who has studied superstition in baseball for decades. He said superstitions are more prevalent in areas where the outcomes may be uncertain. Some examples may include a test in school, first date or a job interview.
“And so sports — in which every night brings a new competition to be won or lost — are a natural incubator for them,” Gmelch said.
Harlan competes in the multis at Drake, which is the decathlon during outdoor season. He also listens to a similar type of music before his races. Harlan listens to musical theatre the whole day leading up to his events and sometimes the day before as well.
“The story really helps me, helps distract me and kind of escape from the nerves,” Harlan said.
University of Illinois pole vaulter Cooper Jazo has a wardrobe requirement for each meet. Jazo has to wear blue compression shorts. He does not know why, but insists on wearing them for every meet, including this year’s Relays.
He’s got other quirks. When he’s pole vaulting outside, he always spits on his hands for grip. He also has a short series of preparatory actions before each run.
“Before I go each time, I apparently either chalk up, sort of slap my legs a little bit, like tap my chest.
“I slap my legs to warm them up, and I tap my chest to represent the block that represents U of I. If I didn’t do those two things during meets, it just psychs myself out to think I’ll do bad. After performing the same rituals before each and every run, it becomes accustomed to how I can succeed,” Jazo said.