When you picture an Olympian, you probably think of someone superhuman with incredible talent and toughness who's a master at performing under pressure on the biggest world stage.
Many Olympic athletes, though, can't get pumped up just by focusing on themselves and their own skills, so they turn to a somewhat surprising trick: channeling someone else.
I talked to a few of Team USA's star skaters at the 2022 Winter Olympics about their go-to alter egos.
Mariah Bell and Beyoncé
Twenty-five-year-old U.S. figure skater Mariah Bell has already made history as the oldest U.S. figure skater to compete in the women’s event in almost a century, but that isn’t stopping the first-time Olympian from channeling a more fierce persona on the ice — and it came at the suggestion of her coach, Adam Rippon, a former Olympic medalist himself.
“Adam mentioned something about being Beyoncé when I was on the ice, so maybe I’ll try to get into my inner Beyoncé,” Bell said. “Honestly, I just love skating so much, and it’s so natural to me that when I get out there, I’m just doing what I love, and I don’t have to think too much about it.”
Jason Brown and Nina Simone
After earning bronze in the team event at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, Team USA’s Jason Brown is returning to the Olympics in Beijing, and this time on the ice, the cheerful skater from Illinois will try to embody his competition song.
“I’m skating to ‘Sinnerman’ by Nina Simone, so I just try to channel ‘Sinnerman,'” Brown said. “I just try to have that inner passive aggressive go-getter type attitude, because usually I’m just super happy, bubbly and fun."
Vincent Zhou and Brian Boitano
For Jason’s Brown’s teammate Vincent Zhou, having an alter ego on the ice is more about drowning out distactions.
“There’s those little voices in your head that come creeping in when there’s lots of pressure, and that’s a mental concept that I’ve been exploring with my psychologist a little lately,” Zhou said.
“Brian Boitano, who was one of my childhood idols growing up, gave a speech at a camp one year where he talked about how at the [1988 Olympics] he named the voice in his head Murphy after Murphy’s Law, ‘Anything that can go wrong will go wrong,’” Zhou said. “Whenever it started creeping in, he was just [like], ‘No Murphy, shut up, like, stop. Now’s not the time, go away!’”
Karen Chen and Mulan
When Karen Chen returns to the Winter Olympics ice rink, she'll be channeling a famous Disney character — and no, it's no one from "Frozen."
“I’ve always felt a connection with Mulan and how she’s just a brave and courageous warrior,” she said. “I remember every Halloween I would dress up like Mulan, so I guess that’s my alter ego!”
Nathan Chen and Himself
Last but not least is Team USA’s Nathan Chen, one of the biggest stars at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.
Four years ago in his Olympic debut in PyeongChang, the three-time world champion earned a bronze medal and has been nearly unstoppable in the sport since. Turns out if you’re a six-time U.S. champion like Chen, you don’t really need to channel anyone else.
“I’m still myself,” he said. “When [you're] on the ice, you can be free and kind of forget about everything else going on in life and just be present on the ice, and I think that’s really special about skating.”