No, its not a banned substance of any kind. Rather, its a song. Every swimmer from world-class Olympians to aquatic weekend warriors has a tune that comes in handy to help push them to greater heights.
On TV, you may have noticed Olympic stars tuning out the world with their headphones on during the pre-race moments prior to diving off the blocks. But you may not have realized that most of them are still humming tunes in their head as they race.
The purpose of this mental karaoke is twofold: First, the song of choice is meant to motivate, whether by lyrics, beat or guitar solo. Second, the song helps a swimmer keep rhythm, allowing distance specialists in particular to maintain a consistent stroke turnover.
Most swimmers opt for hard rock, although heavy metal and dance music are also common choices. Regardless, what follows is a super-exclusive, their-secrets-revealed expose of the World's Best's musical tastes!
With a slightly less-than-scientific approach, I polled a few elite swimmers to find out what music ranked at the top of their charts.
Neethling is a decorated Olympian from South Africa, former NCAA Swimmer of the Year, and the University of Arizona's Athlete of the Century. After competing in the 2008 Beijing Games, he became the first South African to participate in four successive Olympics.
"I find it very helpful to have [music] to swim to, especially in distance swimming. I usually listen to some good dance music before a race or workout and try to use the beat or tempo in my race"
And what specifically constitutes good dance music?
"Anything from DJ Tall Paul in London, Paul Oakenfold, or Germany's Timo Mass! That stuff is pumping!"
Neethling's musical tastes are definitely safe from the mainstream; an investigative hunt in a few underground record stores revealed little of his list that I could sample.
An Olympic gold medalist in 2000 and 2004 in the 4x200m Freestyle Relay, Lindsay Benko is a little less obscure but just as passionate as Neethling when it comes to getting into the groove.
"I like to listen to '80s music to pump me up before a race. I like Rick Springfield's Jesse's Girl and Madonna. But while I am training I usually just sing whatever is in my head at the time."
Vandijk is an export from the Netherlands who happens to be the world open water champion. Her idea of getting through a 10K swim in brutal conditions is singing U2s Beautiful Day.
The video clip that Dutch TV showed during the last Olympics was cut to this song, and it showed all the Dutch athletes participating in the Games, winning or losing, she explains. So I made it my song for the 2000 World Championships. The rhythm is good too, for open water swimming. You need a song with a good beat so your stroke-rate will not drop down.
A 2000 Olympian and this years $10,000 winner at the RCP Tiburon Mile, Teuscher, like Vandijk, is also a U2 fan.
Ive been singing Elevation recently, although the funny thing is that I end up mumbling half the song in my head and repeating about one word of the chorus, she laughs. I dont understand Bono sometimes!
Teuscher also adds that sometimes the voices in her head have nothing to do with her favorite band, but what she last heard on the radio before swim practice.
It might just be what was on the radio before I went in to the pool. Or, some boob on my team always has to sing some teeny-bopper song before a long set to annoy everyone and get it in their heads before the send-off like Britney Spears or N-Sync or something. Then I really mumble the words!
Heckman, an open-water veteran of the national team, is not as dismissive of Top 40 pop as Teuscher is. A proud fan of the boy band/teeny-bopper phenomenon, Heckman attends concerts whenever her favorite teen idols are in town as a way of getting psyched for a big race. She also favors a current ditty by MTV's Total Request Live favorites Blink 182.
Happy Holidays I get stuck in my head all the friggin time! If you ever heard it, youd laugh its just so silly, but its quite a fun song to have stuck in your head for those long sets. It keeps me going.
A 1996 and 2000 Olympian whose medal count is two silvers and a bronze in the breaststroke events, Beard favors female rap stars like Lil Kim and Missy Elliot.
For some reason I really like them, but they have some really nasty lyrics so you may want to leave that out!
Elliots "One Minute Man" is a recent favorite, and although Beard may be closer to breaking the 1-minute mark in the 100-meter breaststroke than any other woman on the planet, the songs title has absolutely nothing to do with swimming (take my word for it!).
Personally, I have to go with Lindsay Benko. Maybe Im dating myself, but having grown up to vintage Rick Springfield, Madonna and Duran Duran, I know that anything '80s helps me cross the finish line in record time. Duran Durans Hungry Like the Wolf was a record that I specifically recall singing in my head when I qualified for my first U.S. National Team in 1987. Madonnas Causing a Commotion helped propel me to a Pan American Games gold medal that same year.
For readers too young to remember those songs when they first came out, rest assured that Madonna delivered some great pace-setters on her 1999 Ray of Light album. The dance remix of the title song is one of my recent favorites, and take note that another cut on the record is titled Swim (though it follows a slightly less-inspiring tune called Drowned World!).
Whatever your musical tastes, the list above can get you started in choosing the right song to motivate and inspire you in the water.
If you have a favorite song to swim, bike, run, or train to, send me an e-mail! Well follow up with a Readers Choice list in the coming weeks.