18 February 2022
Olympics winning athletes’ pre-race musical favourites (and what your business can learn from them)
Guides & explainers
Picture it. You’re by the pool; favourite pair of headphones around your head...
Next to you are seven world-class athletes, who you’re about to race.
It’s the Men’s 4x200m Relay Final at the London 2012 Olympic Games, and you’re expected to win. You will win. You’re Michael Phelps… and you’re about to become the most decorated Olympian of all time.
Why the headphones?
An Olympic champion of unmatched heights, Phelps was also a famous advocate of the pre-race playlist.
He told The Observer in 2005:
I have walked out to race with my headphones on throughout my whole career and listen to music until the last possible moment. It helps me to relax and get into my own little world.
His soundtrack of choice? Eminem and EDM (electronic dance music). It’s perhaps unsurprising that Lose Yourself – on the podium in virtually any motivational songs collection – would be a feature of Phelps’ psychological preparation. Research has found an innate beneficial relationship between music and athletic performance – it activates the same part of our brain that tells us to move, helps us visualize moving, and keeps our movements coordinated. It also – vitally – helps us process our emotions so we can turn nerves into excitement, or anxiety into calm.
Ethiopian long-distance runner Haile Gebrselassie broke the 10,000m world record while listening to Scatman John’s ‘Scatman’, a mix of jazz scatting, rap and house beats – possibly benefitting from the 15% increase in endurance and pleasure that music can provide during exercise.
For Adam Peaty – the world-record beater Great Britain – it’s grime. “I like the dark undertow of grime and it gets me aggressive. You need that aggression. Grime reminds me that swimming is very gladiatorial. The roar of the crowd when you come out for a final is like nothing else: when 15,000 people are cheering you, a lot of adrenaline goes right through you”, the NME reported him as saying after winning gold at Rio 2016.
For Mohamed Ahmed – Canada’s most successful long-distance runner – he prefers to taking things a little easier:
You can’t just have the super pumped-up songs… you have to slow it down a little bit. A lot of the self-doubt that comes into your head, the slower songs kind of internally instil self-belief. They’re pretty much saying, you can do it, you can do it.
And it’s why at this month’s Winter Olympics, you’ll see many of the world’s best athletes warming up – even performing – to their own winning soundtrack. So what can businesses learn from this?
A soundtrack to match your stride
“When companies are faced with a marketing playing field packed with competition, an audio brand creates a clear path to the goal.”
If music is key to putting aside distractions, encouraging focus and inspiring action even in the highest-stakes moments, we asked ourselves where businesses in the fitness industry – always prescient in the early part of the year – could use music across their customer journey.
- Reception: At a fitness centre, you want to inspire confidence, positivity, and movement. And where better to start than… at the start? Strategically placed music can give members the chance to get in the groove as they check in at reception.
- Podcasts: Many gym brands have a loyal membership base; while some will be listening to the perfect playlist, Branded podcasts others will be listening to a podcast while exercising (it’s a thing). Could that podcast be yours?
- Tradeshows: Imagine you’re promoting your latest fitness apparel, exercise equipment and health products on the road – but there’s a crowd. Standing out isn’t all about being seen, it’s about being heard, too. We create unique, brandable music tracks that can do the talking for the products you have on show (and erasing the headaches that come with licensing a popular song).
- Checkout: If you operate an online store (perhaps retailing nutrition products, activewear or gym equipment), consider what could be playing while customers view their basket. Motivational, upbeat audio could help them take that final step.
- On telephones: If people are waiting to connect, holding or transferring, the right music can ensure they stay on the line and reduce the perceived time spent on hold – minimising complaints.
This is just an example of one kind of business, but it might have sparked an idea that applies to your industry. And if you’re struggling for creative ideas, don’t worry – we can help with that.
When sound can be distracting
While many of us know how good it feels to run, work out, or generally move to music, one thing you’ll never see is a distance runner coming round the final bend with an iPod Nano tucked into their shorts (remember those?).
Listening to music is a no-go during competitive athletics events – largely for safety reasons. Even with the trip hazard of wires largely eliminated by Bluetooth technology, officials need competitors’ complete aural attention, so they can hear the starting pistol and other important triggers; not only that, but the swelling roar of the crowd can influence the outcome of a race.
It’s clear there are moments when music is less appropriate (e.g. times when you’re giving important instructions), and we can help your business identify and navigate those, too.Get in touch
Brand spotlight: Airbnb
The latest in our series of deep-dives into brands successfully using audio looks at the phenomenally successful vacation rental platform.
Research & analysis
Why do we find the sound of rain comforting?
And how can you leverage our collective love a good night’s sleep to your advantage?
Eurovision Song Contest 2023: Our experts’ picks
Our Music team have given all 37 of the runners and riders a spin, so you don’t have to. (You’re welcome.)