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Here’s What Olympic Athletes Listen to Before They Compete for Gold

Ahead of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, six Team Canada members share the tunes that inspire them.
Rob Jones/Canadian Cyclist

This article was originally published on THUMP Canada. After years of training, countless early mornings and late nights, it's finally time for athletes around the world to compete for Olympic glory. Before reaching this pinnacle event—which takes place this year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from August 5 to 21—these gold medal hopefuls can be found with headphones, choosing the soundtrack for preparation. For some, playlists are sacred—as if the songs contain the secrets that have propelled them to this point. For others, music is essential to stir up the confidence to win. The music is a push factor against the demons of anxiety and nervousness before a competition.


From cycling to track and field, we spoke to a handful of Olympians from across the country to find out what they're listening to as they prepare for the biggest international sporting event.

Mohammed Ahmed

Photo by Claus Andersen/Athletics Canada

Sport: Track and field

Hometown: St. Catharines, Ontario

Competing Event(s): 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters

THUMP: What's your routine—where and when do you listen to music?

I'm listening to music from the moment I get up until the moment I go to bed. Race days, you're just sitting around waiting for your events, so you've got to do something to kill time. For me, there's some music I have sentimental attachment to—I grew up listening to it, it's associated with a good memory from my childhood.

I have one playlist I've been listening to my whole career dating back to high school when I started running, which includes pump-up songs like Eminem's "Lose Yourself," Fort Minor's "Remember The Name," and Trick Trick's "Welcome 2 Detroit." I categorize the songs in my playlist as soul-massaging or heart-pumping, blood-flowing ones. The soul-massaging type of songs are like Mariah Carey's "Hero," Yolanda Adams' "I Believe," R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly," and a lot of Tupac songs that are emotional.

Do you listen to the slower ones on race day as well?

I do listen to them on race day. You can't just have the super pumped-up songs where the beat is so hard-hitting that you're about to explode, 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 instill self-belief. They're pretty much saying "You can do it, you can do it."


Aaron Brown

Photo by Claus Anderson/Athletics Canada

Sport: Track and field

Hometown: Toronto, Ontario

Events: 100 metres, 200 metres, 4x100-meter relay

Is music part of your warm-up on race day?

The kind of music I like is very diverse. Depending on the kind of mood I'm trying to prepare myself for will dictate which playlist I use. Obviously on game day, it's going to be different from when I'm in the car trying to relax. Most athletes like high-tempo music that'll pump them up, but for the most part I like to play songs that put me in a mood that's kind of calm but serious.

I have a playlist called "Game Time:"

Kanye West - Amazing
Drake - 9
Partynextdoor - Options
Drake - Charged Up
Drake - Summer Sixteen
Kanye West - Welcome To Heartbreak
Tricky - Past Mistake
Ricky Hil feat. The Weeknd - Nomads
The Weeknd - Initiation
Michael Jackson - Earth Song
Kanye West feat. Pusha T - Runaway
Rolling Stone - The Weeknd
Eiffel 65 - I'm Blue
Banks - This Is What It Feels Like
Yuri Kane - Right Back
Fetty Wap feat. Drake - My Way
Lil Wayne - Go DJ
Desiigner - Panda
Kanye West - Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1 & Pt. 2

A lot of those songs have come out in the past year, do you find you're constantly finding new music to add to your routine?

Exactly, it's always growing. For example, "Earth Song" was a song I was introduced to in 2009, when it was the theme for the world youth championship I was at [in Brixen, Italy]. Any time I play that song, I go back to that moment in 2009 [Brown won silver in the 100 metres]. If I play songs that remind of a time where I was successful, and I realize I've done it before, it calms me down.


Is there a song or two you associate with recent accomplishments?

When I was overseas this past year, and I ran in Rome, Shanghai, and Japan, I was playing a lot of The Life of Pablo and Views. Songs like "9" and "Feel No Ways" by Drake or "Waves" by Kanye West remind me of that period.

Bianca Farella

Photo courtesy of Rugby Canada

Sport: Rugby

Hometown: Montreal, Quebec

Competing Event(s): Rugby sevens

Who are some artists and go-to songs on your playlist?

It mostly ends up being Top 40 songs. Something by Ariana Grande would be happening for me right now. I also like something with a rave or dance beat. I found a song recently by Carnage on Trap Nation. I love it, it really gets me charged and fired inside.

You're on a team and there's a dressing room where you're all together before and after games. Do you listen to music and who gets to pick what everybody listens to?

We have a boom box in the change room. Right after a game, we'll have a recovery cooldown and time for music then. And we have a preview meeting going over our game plan for our next game, and right after that is when the music stops and it's time to individually focus.

If someone wants to put on a song or plug in their iPod, it's definitely a free-for-all. It's mostly done by our captain Jen Kish. It's mostly pretty mellow and Top 40, there's never really any strong, powerful dance bass beats. It's perfect for our game prep because after that preview, we have that narrow window for putting our headphones in and visualizing the game plan before we head out to warm-up.


After the warmup, that's it for music in the dressing room?

I'd say so. We have a team song— "Hey Brother" by Avicii— sometimes once we have our jerseys and walk out, someone will play it. But it's rare. Once we head to warm-up, it's done for music.

Is there a particular memory or tournament associated with "Hey Brother"?

That started a few years ago, in 2014, at a tournament in Atlanta. It was the first time one of our teammates suggested that we all put our favourite song onto a playlist. It wasn't just one specific genre of music. That song stuck for us and really resonated. We had a tournament in Victoria and every time we had a game we ran out on the field to that song.

Sekou Kaba

Photo by Kashani Thomas

Sport: Track and field

Hometown: Ottawa, Ontario

Competing Event(s): 110-meter hurdles

According to your official Team Canada bio, you can spend hours digging around for music on your iPod. Tell me a little more about that.

For a few years now I've been on SoundCloud. I've always had a love for underground music, I believe they work the hardest because they're not yet discovered. They put their all into a piece of work, hoping to attract a following, and eventually make a living. Lately, I'm more fascinated of late with the production side of things. I listen to chill electronic music—kind of groovy, a lot of bass, but with moments of chilly aqua vibes.

Have you discovered any SoundCloud artists lately that you're really into?


There's a guy named IAMNOBODI. He's got some really good songs, he's really influenced by soul, hip-hop, jazz, and R&B, which he mixes together with an electronic spin. It's so awesome and cloudy and sends you to another space.

Is music a part of your pre-competition routine?

Music is part of my life. I listen to a minimum of two hours of my favourite songs every day, even if it's in the morning in the car or at night to kind of zone out. Warming up there's always music playing. Before I get into my spikes, I'll listen to my favourite song of all time—"Hop Skip & Jump" by Pete Rock.

You've lived in quite a few places throughout your life, how has that influenced your music taste?

Obviously living in Michigan, Detroit, J Dilla is almost an automatic. Being from Africa, Brazil was my favourite country of all time because of their soccer team. My favourite movie is Only the Strong, which is based on Brazil and martial arts, so it's very fitting for me to be going to the country for the first time for the Olympics. Even with some of the artists I listen to like Sango, there's a Brazilian influence in his songs.

Kate O'Brien

Photo by Rob Jones/Canadian Cyclist

Sport: Cycling

Hometown: Calgary, Alberta

Competing Event(s): Team sprint, individual sprint, keirin

What songs do you listen to before a race and how do you choose them?

In my playlist, I typically have something fairly low-key like "Crosses" by Jose Gonzalez, which I'll listen to because it's super chill. As the warm-up progresses, and I'm needing to get a little more amped up, I'll put on something more dancey or electronic. Calvin Harris used to be a favorite, there's some Tiesto. About 15 minutes before I go up to race, I'll put on something intense like an orchestral piece—"Mind Heist" by Zack Hemsey is one I used to use. Recently I've been on a [Naughty Boy feat. Bastille] "No One's Here to Sleep" kick. That's a pre-race one that gets me super focused and a little less jittery.


Do the artists change up depending on how you're feeling?

It's how I'm feeling that day, but the same general artists and the flow always stays that way.

Nicole Sifuentes

Photo by Dustin Johnston

Sport: Track and field

Hometown: Winnipeg, Manitoba

Competing Event(s): 1,500 meters

What's on your playlist? What are your go-to songs on race day?

I've listened to the same six Christian rock songs during my warmup or on the way to the race since high school or junior high. To me, it's familiar and it creates the right attitude in my mind, so there's no reason to change it. A lot of the songs I chose based on the lyrics, which helps remind me of why I run and my purpose.

Do you have other songs that you listen to when you're training on non-race days?

Honestly, I don't use music that often. When I find it really helpful is every week I do a long run of about 13 miles, especially in the fall, which is treated like a hard workout. There's a couple albums I have that suit my stride length and set a certain pace—Maroon 5, Taylor Swift's newest album, and Frou Frou. I know that if I put certain songs on then I'm going to run a six-minute mile pace. It's kind of a weird tool but it's definitely helpful to me.

Jonathan Briggins is on Twitter.