The Athlete’s Superstition
The mind’s influence over the athlete is considerable; particularly in a sport as difficult as cycling. A strong mind can push its body well past its limitations and into the realm of the supernatural; forcing the legs to continue giving more despite each of the million muscle fibers screaming in unified agony. You could say the rider is primarily made up of the mind, for when the mind is broken the rider becomes little more than a clumsy organism perched upon a bicycle. (I speak from experience in this last matter.)
Paradoxically, the same mind that holds such control over the body is also woefully fragile and prone to superstitious thought. It fills easily with doubt and is distracted by ancillary details. This is why the tape must always be perfect, the machine silent, the kit spotless: the slightest problem can disrupt the mind as it steels itself for the suffering that is to come. Indeed, the greatest athletes are marked by the heights of their superstitions.
As a matter of fact, even the moderate ones are. At a certain point in my Nordic ski racing career, I determined that there were a particular pair of gloves and lenses that always landed me at the top of the result list. Like most racers, I had gloves for warmer weather and colder weather, and lenes for sunny as well as overcast weather, but this particular combination of mid-weight gloves and dark lenses rendered me in a position of supernatural Nordic Ski Racing Power. The world was mine, so long as weather conditions permitted their use. I told myself that I performed better with those lenses due to some kind of improved optics. I rationalized the glove by determining that I could better grip my poles with that specific weight of glove.
It wasn’t long before I found myself selecting those gloves and lenses before every important event, regardless of the weather conditions. I could be at the height of my powers, with a perfectly executed training plan, yet they became what I used to convince myself I was ready to race. We’ll tell ourselves anything if it helps us muster the courage to face our sport and the agony that comes with the efforts we put forth.
I can only speculate as to the degree to which this must effect the professional athlete as the suffering and dangers they face become a daily reality. Merckx be merciful; I cannot begin to comprehend what they must give to carry out their craft.