With all the star power in pool during the 2016 Rio Olympics, 21-year-old Canadian swimmer Santo Condorelli could have easily gone unnoticed, if it weren’t for one strange pre-race ritual.
Before diving into the pool– whether it be at the Pan American Games, World Championships, or even the Olympics– Condorelli dons his goggles and cap, searches for his father’s face in the crowd, and then flips him the bird.
We’ve seen a lot of finger wagging in Rio, from breakout star Lilly King and her new nemesis, Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova, and from the golden boy himself Michael Phelps; but flipping people off is a new one.
What seems like an insolent gesture towards a key member of Condorelli’s support system is part of a ritual that Santo’s father, Joseph Condorelli, came up with over a decade ago. Creating an outlet for his son’s frustration and nerves, Joseph started flipping off his son as a “motivational tool.”
Both father and son say the gesture is what helped the Olympic competitor gain the confidence to beat older, stronger, bigger swimmers. “It became a good ritual for both of us,” Joseph told The Canadian Press, “He got a lot of his aggravation out.”
Santo has said that he remembers his father telling him use the gesture to remind himself that his performance in the pool is what counts, not anyone else’s: “say eff everybody else that you’re racing.”
While Santo has gotten in trouble for the gesture before and had to tone it down for the Olympics, bringing his finger closer to his forehead rather than out to the crowd, he won’t be abandoning the signal anytime soon.
Some might call it superstition, but Joseph says that flipping the bird helps relax Santo before a big race. “It [flipping the bird] calms him down on the blocks for sure,” he said. "It's a communication between him and I to calm down and get ready. Racing is about being at peace.”
Watch Condorelli compete in the men’s 100m freestyle final (and flip his dad the bird) tonight at 10:03 pm ET.
He will also compete tomorrow, August 11th in the 50m freestyle heat (12:02 pm ET) and the 100m butterfly heat (1:16 pm ET).
How to Live Stream the 2016 Rio Olympics:
NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app will be live streaming coverage of the Games for pay TV subscribers via TV Everywhere. You can download the NBC Sports app to your Android TV, Apple TV, Xbox or Roku or use the iOS, Android or Windows Phone apps.
You can also live stream Olympic matches from NBC here.