Music - the drug of choice for Britain's Olympians

Psychologists believe they have discovered why Britain won so many medals at the Sydney Olympics: not drugs but music.

Psychologists believe they have discovered why Britain won so many medals at the Sydney Olympics: not drugs but music.

Dr Costas Karageorghis and his team of researchers at Brunel University in West London say that athletes can improve their performance by as much as 18 per cent by listening to the right sort of music.

Last night a host of medal winners - including rowing gold James Cracknell, sprinters Katharine Merry and Darren Campbell, and boxing gold Audley Harrison - confirmed that music had helped them to win. Dr Karageorghis has been researching the psychological effects of music in sport and exercise for over a decade, and has worked with some of the UK's top athletes. "Essentially, it comes down to brainwave activity," he said. "The human mind produces brainwave responses to music, increasing its alpha activity. This pushes athletes into what is commonly referred to as 'the zone' - almost a semi-hypnotic state where they perform on auto-pilot without any conscious effort. Being in 'the zone' is absolutely necessary for a peak performance, and music helps to induce it."

Dr Karageorghis says different athletes need different music. "Some need songs that will relax them; others need songs that will stimulate them. Either way, the music should leave them feeling inspired."

The key, he says, is the heart rate. Athletes who need to wind themselves up before an event will listen to a song which is the same speed, or faster, than their heart rate. Those who feel anxious before competing will choose music with a tempo below their heart rate, to calm them down and help them focus. Dr Karageorghis illustrated this by referring to two of his protégés: "Audley Harrison will listen to Japanese classical music before a fight, to avoid burning off nervous energy, but Iwan Thomas [relay] will psyche himself up to 'Firestarter' by The Prodigy before he races. It is a very individual process."

James Cracknell, who rowed to Olympic glory and into the record books last month with Steve Redgrave, Matthew Pinsent and Tim Foster, said yesterday that listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers' album Blood Sugar Sex Magik was a crucial part of the preparation for the race.

"I was listening to that CD on my Discman until about an hour before we competed," he said. "The music's vaguely aggressive and powerful, but it's also familiar, so it serves a joint purpose. It makes you relax a bit, but also winds you up at the same time. It keeps you going, which is very important."

Katharine Merry, the 400m runner who won bronze at the Olympics, also cited music as a powerful influence on the quality of her performance. "I listen to soft soul and R&B music like K-Ci and Jo Jo on the way to the track. It helps me to feel comfortable, relaxed and positive. In many ways, it is essential to a good performance. You have to lock off the rest of the world, and music helps you do that."

Olympic 200m silver medallist Darren Campbell agreed. "For an hour-and-a-half between the Olympic semi-final and the final I just lay on a couch and listened to the same Craig David song, 'Rendezvous', over and over again. It helped me to focus. I could get into my own little world so I couldn't hear or be distracted by other people on the track."

Campbell also revealed that his coach, Linford Christie, is a convert. "Linford always plays inspirational music to us," he said. "Last year at the world champs he sat us down, gave us a last little speech and told us to believe in ourselves, then played R Kelly's 'I Believe I Can Fly'."

Fellow international sprinter Dwain Chambers, the second fastest Briton ever, is a firm believer in gospel music, which he began listening to on the advice of Olympic hurdler Tony Jarrett. "I channel everything into the music, to avoid the nervous energy on the track," he said. "I listened to UK garage before races last year, but that psyched me up too much. Listening to gospel has really helped me to improve my performances this season. It's my legal drug."

Dr Karageorghis is now working with Nike to make his research available to everyone. The sportswear company has adopted his concept to create the PSA (Personal Sports Audio) player, a tiny ergonomically designed device which plays digital music files downloaded from the internet.Athletes can visit the web site and download a musical package that is relevant to their workout before playing it on their PSA while exercising.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower