Posts tagged "joseph diaz"

From green sports bras to peanut M&M’s–the strange habits of Olympic athletes

By Emily Thompson  |  BSU at the Games

Olympian Anna Tunnicliffe is not like other superstitious sailors. Most wouldn’t let anything the color green near their boat, but Tunnicliffe has green on hers at every major competition.

An old sailing tale claims the color is bad luck on a boat, and Tunnicliffe and her teammates were always careful not to chance it. But before one competition, Tunnicliffe forgot to change out of her green sports bra beforehand. She won and decided it was lucky.

“So I wear that on finals day, but don’t tell [my teammates] that,” Tunnicliffe says.

She laughs.

“I do wash it.”

Tunnicliffe, whose team lost in the quarterfinals of the Elliot 6m sailing race Wednesday, hasn’t been the only 2012 Olympian with a quirky habit. Many of the athletes who have competed  in London have routines, rituals and superstitions, from peanut M&M’s to specific warm-ups. But Sean McCann, United States Olympic Committee (USOC) senior sport psychologist, said it’s important to make clear distinctions between the three.

“I’m a big fan of routines, rituals make me nervous, and superstitions I actively discourage,” McCann says.


McCann said routines can help keep athletes on track before a big event like the Games.

“Routines are really useful because under pressure at the Olympic Games, it’s so easy to get distracted from the normal business of doing your sport,” he says. “It becomes a way of helping the mind actively flow into the action, as opposed to stopping and thinking and potentially getting in your own way.”

For some, routines come naturally.

“I am a pretty routine type of person by nature and by personality,” said cyclist Dotsie Bausch, whose team won a silver in the team pursuit.. “So I tend to do the same process the night before [a competition], which involves a certain type of music, then I go into a meditation, then I go into prayer time and then a music time. I pack my bag the same, and it helps with calming.”

When setting up a routine, McCann said athletes should start with the moment they’re in action and work backward.

“Virtually every athlete can control the last 10 seconds before they do something,” he said. “That’s a good place to start a routine, to get your mind in the right place, whether it’s using imagery or visualization or a specific cue word that reminds you about technique, for instance.”

Boxer Joseph Diaz Jr., who lost in the men’s bantam round of 16 in the 56kg weight class, said right before a fight, he tries to pump himself up mentally.

“To stay focused, I just think positive thoughts,” he said. “I think about me winning; I think about my family.”


Rituals are not as clear-cut as routines. McCann said some rituals are harmless, while others can interfere by making the athlete anxious if he or she can’t complete the ritual. The difference is how much control athletes have over the outcome of their rituals.

“A ritual might be something like, ‘On game day, I need to put on my right sock first, then my left sock,’” the psychologist said. “That sort of thing becomes more magical thinking, in terms of, ‘I need to do something the same way.’”

One of the examples of a popular ritual McCann gives is food.

“I won’t travel without eating Peanut M&M’s on a plane,” Travis Stevens, who lost in the semifinals of the 81kg class in judo, said. “It started from finding it at every airport in the country. It was the one thing that I could always find, so it’s my staple when I travel.”

Diver Brittany Viola, who is competing in the 10m platform diving this week, is very specific about her diet surrounding her sport. She likes to have salmon the night before a big competition.

On the other hand, some athletes prefer not to eat at all the day of a major event.

“I don’t like to feel very full, so I usually don’t eat breakfast on the days that I compete,” diver Nick McCrory said, who won a bronze with partner David Boudia in the 10m platform synchronized diving and has individual competitions this week. “Then I’ll snack on a protein bar and drink water later.”

Rituals can also come in the form of a familiar item.

“I travel with my pillow everywhere because it’s something that’s consistent,” Boudia said. “I sleep in a lot of different beds all around the world, but one thing I can have from my own bed is my pillow.”


Unlike rituals, which can sometimes be harmless, McCann says that superstitions put athletes in the wrong mindset.

“Superstitions are to ward off bad things from happening. Or if something happens, like a black cat crosses your path, then you’re worried that something bad will happen,” he says. “Right away, it engages your brain in thinking about bad stuff that could happen. So I really try and discourage people from having outright superstitions.”

Diver Kristian Ipsen admits to being superstitious.

“I do certain things before a dive, and if a dive goes well, I will keep doing that,” said Isepn, who won a bronze in the 3m synchronized springboard competition. “And if it doesn’t go well, I will switch something up. I won’t wear this one red suit that I wore at one of my college meets because I had a terrible, terrible meet. And for finals, I usually wear a black suit because I dive well in a black suit.”

Gymnast Logan Dooley, who was Olympic alternate who didn’t end up competing, tries not to be too superstitious but says he gets freaked out if he bounces on the trampoline.

“It’s OK if you bounce and you stop, and then you recollect your thoughts and go,” Dooley said. “But if that happens to me, I’m very superstitious about that. I think that it’s always bad luck.”

According to McCann, many athletes’ habits stem from all of the pressure they face.

“It’s not only natural, but it’s probably advantageous, to have a certain level of nervousness and anxiety for competing,” he said. “You do need to be a little on-edge so you’re focused, but that also exposes some of this stuff, and it makes some things that should be a small deal become a bigger deal.”

Because there’s so much stress surrounding the Olympic Games, McCann said he encourages athletes to stick to routines instead of getting caught up in everything that could go wrong.

But regardless of McCann’s advice, Tunnicliffe wore her green sports bra under her sailing uniform at the Games.  Some athletes may even have a lucky rabbit’s foot, a horseshoe or a four-leaf clover.

Behind many athletes’ tough exteriors, they need some sort of comfort, just like the rest of us—even if it doesn’t produce a gold-medal result.

Emily Thompson is a senior magazine journalism major at Ball State University and features reporter for BSU at the Games. Follow Emily and the BSU team at@ekthompson2410@bsuatthegames and

Diaz loses to familiar foe

By Conor Hockett  |  BSU at the Games

Joseph Diaz Jr. couldn’t get inside Cuba’s Lazaro Alvarez Estrada’s reach to cause significant damage in the round of 16 match at bantamweight (56 kg) Wednesday.

Alvarez, the No. 1 seeded boxer from Cuba, took all three rounds and won 21-15 to reach the quarterfinals.

“Unfortunately I didn’t get the W, but I gave everyone the show they wanted to see,” Diaz said. “I’m glad I gave everyone a really good show. Everyone was chering and that’s what I came here to do.”

The first round was close as Diaz staggered Alvarez momentarily with a  1-2 combination, but the Cuban’s aggressive, punch-heavy style gave him a 7-6 advantage.

Diaz tried to up the tempo in rounds two and three, but Alvarez used a stiff jab to keep him out of range. Alvarez took the final two rounds 7-4 and 7-5 in a fight that was much closer than the score suggests.

“I thought the scoring should have been closer, but the judges didn’t see that unfortunately,” Diaz said. “Lazaro (is) a really great fighter. I’m not going to give him a downgrade or anything; he’s a really great fighter. He’s a good boxer, a great puncher, and it just wasn’t my day for the judges”

At the 2011 World Championships, Alvarez beat Diaz 19-10 in the quarterfinals on his way to the world title.

U.S. boxing has four men left in medal contention: Rau’Shee Warren at 52 kg, Jose Ramirez at 60 kg, Errol Spence Jr. at 69 kg and Terrell Gausha at 75 kg.

Conor Hockett is a junior journalism major at Ball State University covering sports for BSU at the Games. Follow Conor and the BSU team at @bsuatthegames and

An Olympian’s fight for a better life

By Emily Thompson  |  BSU at the Games

JoJo Diaz grew up as part of a poor family in a rough part of El Monte, Calif. Kids in his neighborhood wanted him to join one of the local gangs, but Diaz liked school. He got good grades. For that reason, and because he was so small, he was bullied a lot.

One time he fought back.

The fight landed him in a special class for troubled students, and he swore to never fight on the street again. But the bullying didn’t stop.

He turned to his father for advice, and his dad took him to the local boxing gym to learn how to defend himself the right way. The very first day, Diaz ran into one of the bullies from school at the gym. The other boy had two years experience in the ring.

“You think you’re tough?” the bully said. “Let’s spar.”

Diaz agreed to spar in a week. During that time he practiced with his father. A week later, he put on his boxing gloves and walked into the ring for his first match. He gave the bully a bloody nose and made him cry. He found his passion in life.

“Ever since then, I just got hooked on boxing,” he said. “And I said, ‘Dad, we could do this for a living.’”

Joseph Diaz Jr. completes an intense heavy bag workout during a Team USA Boxing training session at SCORE training center in Leyton, an area of east London. Photo by Valerie Carnevale.

Joseph “JoJo” Diaz Jr. is now the youngest boxer on Team USA for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. USA Boxing gives him a monthly stipend, which supports Diaz, one of his sisters and his two unemployed parents.

“If it wasn’t for boxing, I don’t know where I’d be,” he said. “I don’t know if I’d be in a gang or what. But boxing really helps me out a lot, with everything: helping out my parents financially, helping me stay of trouble, everything overall.”

But the stipend was not enough for his parents to come to London and watch him in the Olympic Games. So he and his family washed cars, sold t-shirts and autographs, collected donations and held beer pong tournaments.

After what seemed like endless fundraising, they raised enough money to bring seven people to watch him: his mother and father, his two sisters and brother-in-laws and his boxing director. They met Diaz in London last week.

Another person in his corner is fellow Olympic boxer Marcus Browne. The two spend a lot time together outside of the ring.

“JoJo’s my boy,” Browne said. “He’s a great kid. If I would have a son, I want my son to be like him because he’s well mannered. He’s just a good-spirited person.”

Since arriving in London, Diaz said he’s ready to compete.

“I’m already here,” he said. “I’m already really well trained. I’m already focused. I’m in the best shape of my life. So I know that it’s going to be really hard to beat me.”

He and the rest of Team USA Boxing are preparing for the Games at the SCORE Training Center in London. At a typical practice, the team trains with four coaches.

Although the center doesn’t have air conditioning, Diaz wore a gray, long-sleeved Nike shirt and black athletic shorts Thursday. After stretching and conditioning, he put on his gloves and started hitting the punching bag. His punches got harder and faster as he progressed, with a “hut” sound each time he hit the bag. Eventually his nice, clean clothes became sweaty. Although several other athletes and coaches were buzzing around him, he looked as focused as if he were alone.

Al Mitchell, Team USA head boxing coach, said he’s confident in Diaz’s skills.

“He’s a very smart young man, and he wants to learn,” Mitchell said. “He’s just getting better and better each day. When he came here, he could box. And he’s working on strategy now.”

Although USA Boxing hasn’t done well in recent Olympic Games, Diaz said he believes that will change this year. In fact, he has his heart set on gold.

“If I bring back that gold medal, I’m going to change my whole family’s life,” he said. “I’m going to buy them a house. I’m going to buy them a car and just pay all their bills for them and everything. So that’s actually making me more focused and more determined.”

Emily Thompson is a senior magazine journalism major at Ball State University and features reporter for BSU at the Games. Follow Emily and the BSU team at@ekthompson2410@bsuatthegames and

Daily Video: Joseph Diaz, Jr. | USA Boxing

BSU at the Games daily video series featuring Team USA athletes.

Joseph Diaz, Jr. – USA Boxing

Behind every great story—a great relationship

Errol Spence, Jr., doesn’t know what I am about to write.  Neither does Eric Shanteau.  But I am convinced those two individuals entered my life for a reason this week.

The same holds true for Thomas Finchum, Kayla Harrison, Travis Stevens, Joseph Diaz, Jr., and David Boudia.

And even though I haven’t met Miles Chamley-Watson in person yet, you can put a check by his name too.  Chalk one up for the good guys (and gals).

Even though this is my first blog post about this amazing Olympic experience, the relationships have been building for many months. It was more than evident in Dallas.

Maybe it was because I was sitting inside the boxing ring at Maple Avenue Boxing Gym in Downtown Dallas, but it hit me harder than Spence’s signature south-paw punch, and I couldn’t have been happier.

While more than 450 other media members packed into a room to listen to Michael Phelps or First Lady Michelle Obama over at the Hilton Anatole, Josh Blessing and I were forming a bond with Spence, his coach, Derrick James, and his father, Spence Sr.—a bond that, after four days, will last a lifetime.  Sign me up, I am officially a member of Team Spence.

I’ve worked in sports my whole life, and by this time, my instincts never have proven me wrong. I knew going to Dallas this was a chance to do something special.  Just do a quick Google search on Errol Spence, Jr., and USA Boxing, and you’ll see what I mean.

His story is amazing.  From the tiny, rundown Vivero Boxing Gym in Oak Cliff to becoming a three-time national welterweight champion and Olympic medalist hopeful in London.  Oh, and he’s only 22 years old. He’s the son of a Jamaican immigrant.  His biggest influence is his mother (mine too).

Josh and I spent the better part of our trip researching, making connections and shooting video for this story.  Instinct.

When I picked up Errol from the hotel and we drove together to Maple Avenue for the interview, we connected.  Not since working with former Ball State athlete, John Wooden Award winner and dear friend Peyton Stovall have I seen a smile or the charisma Spence has.

I can’t wait to unleash my own creativity and experience with Josh on this story.  Spence deserves my best, and he’ll get it.  And I’ll be in London—hopefully in the stands as often as I can—to support Spence every step of the way.  He deserves that too.

Less than two hours later, it was the inspirational Shanteau who delivered the knock out.

We talked about his journey over the last four years as a cancer survivor, the loss of his father to the same dreaded disease and his mission to spread cancer awareness in young adults.

It too was more than an interview. We spent an hour talking about life and how it changed for him. Little did he know, it was changing for me too. We connected.

I collected more than 75 business cards in Dallas, shared stories and worked with our students in an environment I will never forget. We met with more than 100 athletes and logged more than 600 minutes of interviews. There’s more coming.  Heck, we haven’t even made it to London yet.

But it’s more than just the connections and the stories, it’s the people.  It’s building relationships. It’s being real, having a passion for what you do and caring for people.

Spence and Shanteau know all about those things.

Chris Taylor  |  Adviser


2012 Team USA Media Summit

Seven members of the BSU at the Games team interviewed athletes and viewed sports demonstrations at the 2012 Team USA Media Summit in Dallas in May. Read more about it here.

Photos by Ryan Sparrow and Chris Taylor.


Athletes in order of appearance:

1. Kayla Harrison (Judo) 2. Mary Killman and Maria Koroleva (Synchronized Swimming) 3. Brady Ellison (Archery) 4. Brady Ellison 5. Errol Spence, Jr. (Boxing) 6. Michael Phelps (Swimming) 7. First Lady Michelle Obama 8. Rau’Shee Warren (Boxing) 9. Mary Killman (Synchronized Swimming) 10. Alex Meyer (Swimming) 11. Alexander Massiaslas (Fencing) 12. Hunter Kemper (Triathlon) 13. Jessica Long (Paralympic Swimming) 14. Thomas Finchum (Diving) 15. Joseph Diaz, Jr. (Boxing) 16. Wallace Spearmon (Track & Field) 17. Trey Hardee (Track & Field) 18. Nastia Liukin (Gymnastics) 19. Joshua Richmond (Shooting)