Sports champions need an extra edge. Chicken nuggets, tap dancing – whatever it takes.
What does it take to be the best in a sport?
Getting up early to put in the extras when your rivals are still dozing – sure. Dull, but necessary unfortunately.
Practicing and practicing so that in the heat of battle everything just clicks naturally. Of course.
Being born with actual talent doesn’t hurt either.
These are crucial to success but there are smaller, lesser-known factors that can transform great athletes to champion athletes.
Whether they’re loony superstitions or simple creature comforts, the pros are only human and can’t compete without them. Otherwise they’d be just like normal folk, with only their talent and brilliance separating them from us.
Usain Bolt Track and Field: 3 time Olympic gold medalist
At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Bolt showed complete disregard for boring old sports nutritionists and relied on McDonalds chicken nuggets to propel him to 3 gold medals.
When he arrived in China Bolt acquainted himself with the local cuisine and then quickly acquainted himself with the local toilets. “I tried a local meal and my body didn’t react well,” he said.
Never mind, Plan B. Greasy, fried chicken nuggets, courtesy of the smiling clown.
“I knew I could rely on nuggets.”
Rely on them he did, 100 a day to be precise. No pasta, no salads, just alleged chicken and batter. Bolt went on to break three world records and became a familiar sight on the winner’s podium.
If the Jamaican champion ever falls on hard times he needn’t worry. There’s a very lucrative chicken nugget endorsement just waiting for him, albeit with obvious disclaimers relating to gorging on nuggets not necessarily guaranteeing athletic excellence…etc.
Naomi Osaka Tennis: 3 time Grand Slam winner
When Naomi Osaka finds an artist she likes she sticks with them. And keeps on sticking with them, until she loses. Then she flicks them.
Leading into every Grand Slam Osaka decides on an album and listens to it repeatedly. Nothing else. The artist will hopefully ride with her all the way to collecting the winner’s trophy.
When she became the first Japanese tennis player to win a major at the 2018 US Open, Naomi was banking on Kendrick Lamar to see her through.
However in a tournament leading to the Open she was beaten and promptly booted Bad Luck Kendrick to the curb. It was his fault she couldn’t hold her second serve.
She settled on Eminem and the motor-mouthed rapper was ringing in her ears when she saw off the mighty Serena Williams in the final. Listening to nothing but Eminem for two weeks is truly deserving of a trophy and maybe even a straight jacket.
Washington Nationals Baseball: 2019 World Series champions
The Nationals came from nowhere to win the club’s first ever World Series in 2019. The team was made up of unknown rookies, misfits and over the hill codgers on their last chance for glory. Together they danced and gyrated their way to the ultimate prize with legions of non-Nats fans jumping on the bandwagon. They made baseball fun.
It all started in early June with an unimposing 19-31 Win/Loss record. The Nationals were listless and bracing themselves for a long, tough summer.
However one afternoon in San Diego a batter hit a home run. Hooray. Then the next batter did the same. Great stuff, some smiles and plenty of high fives.
Up came the next batter and whooshka – another homer. The crowd came alive as did the Nationals. This was very rare and quite frankly, exciting.
The fourth batter came to the plate. Surely not. But yes. Whack! The fourth consecutive home run flew into the stands and the Nationals dugout erupted.
The four batters went into a frenzied ad-lib tap dance as their teammates joined in. As did their coaches, some of them over 60 and not without protruding stomachs.The dancing wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t slick but it was mightily entertaining.
And it bonded them. Rival teams sneered but fans loved it.
Dugout dancing lit up the Nationals’ season and they boogied all the way to the big prize and then onto the celebrations, which are presumably still continuing.
Sarah Sjostrom Swimmer: Olympic gold medalist
Sweden’s first ever swimming gold medalist has an easy smile and is at peace with herself in and out of the pool. This is especially so when she’s machine-gunning terrorists to death in the shooting game Counter Strike.
Staring down day after day at the black lines of a pool has been known to test the mental reserves of many swimmers. That plus the early rises and monstrous training regimes have made former champions snap.
Sjostrom keeps this urge to lose the plot in check by losing herself in the joys of grenades, rocket launchers and sniper attacks.
We should point out that her targets are terrorists, it’s just a game and she owns no automatic weapons, to our knowledge.
Michael Jordan Basketball: 6 time NBA championship winner
Jordan’s expertise on the court is legendary. Not only did he revolutionize the game with his explosive play but he willed his side to a mighty 6 championships. As a recent Netflix documentary showed, he may not be everyone’s first choice to invite to a relaxing barbecue but who cares? Certainly not MJ.
However he mightn’t have achieved any of this if he was forced to continue playing in short shorts. In the 70s and 80s the trend was for basketball shorts to be very short. And tight. Leaving little to the imagination, as it were.
Anyway, MJ wasn’t having it. Not that he objected to having his nether regions being gazed at, but they prevented him from wearing his university shorts underneath. Jordan enjoyed great success at North Carolina University and wanted to keep wearing his shorts in the NBA. The coziness of shorts at the time prevented it so in true Jordan fashion, he demanded longer, looser shorts.
It was done, and the rest of the basketball world followed.
Ash Barty Tennis: World Number 1, Grand Slam winner
Tennis players arguably travel the world more than any other athletes. Some will try unsuccessfully to gain sympathy from commoners with gripes such as, “I’m living out of a suitcase” or “my life is just a series of hotel rooms.”
Thankfully, some of the more grounded players such as Ash Barty are appreciative of their opportunities and revel in the lives they’re able to lead.
Barty is by nature fairly relaxed and easy-going but she also makes sure to pack a $4 essential every time she leaves Australia.
“I pack a tube of Vegemite to make breakfast anywhere in the world feel more like home,” she says.
Ah Vegemite, that uniquely Australian delicacy. The black salty spread usually eaten on toast at breakfast or given to unsuspecting guests in a heaped spoonful.
Not all Australians are fans of course, but Barty is and it plays a major role in maintaining sanity while overseas.
And for those of those who regard Vegemite as inedible filth – please have a look in your own backyard first. North America – Dr Pepper. Please. UK – Marmite. Not today thanks. Japan – natto. Probably not.
It’s obvious that to truly excel in your chosen sport or pursuit you need the extra edge to set you at ease. So before your next game / tournament / class be sure to wolf down chicken nuggets while repeatedly listening to your favorite song.
You might find that talent is overrated.