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What’s Really Playing On Team USA Athletes’ Headphones

By Lisa Costantini | June 22, 2016, 4:15 p.m. (ET)

Certain songs evoke certain memories. Who still remembers the song from their high school prom? Music can pump you up or bring you down. And while their songs of choice may vary, one thing these Team USA athletes all agree on is that music is an important part of their training and competition. See which artists they ranked among their favorites and why.

Alysia Montano, Track and Field

"I am lighthearted and super goofy, and I think that people don’t expect for me to zone in, but I really need that. And music helps me do that. So one of the songs that I need to listen to — and it’s like my super swag song — is “Headlines” by Drake. One of the lyrics is “I had someone tell me I fell off, ohh I needed that”. I like it because in life we have our highs and our lows. And a part of sport is having spectators root for you and then doubt you. So sometimes it’s nice to remember the doubters for a little bit, just for a little extra oomph."

Jamie Whitmore, Paralympic Cycling

"Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” always comes to my mind and has a lot of meaning with the lyrics, “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never going to keep me down...” And then, “Bicycle Race” by Queen. I can’t tell you how many times I laid in the hospital bed and that song played in my head. “I want to ride my bicycle. I want to ride it where I like… .”

Blake Haxton, Rowing

"I don’t have a problem getting pumped, more like staying even-keeled, so I listen to a lot of Zac Brown Band before I go. It’s upbeat and happy. It was funny because it didn’t occur to me until after, but at the last world championships I had some Zac Brown playing and the song “Knee Deep” came on. [The lyrics go: “Wishin’ I was knee deep in the water somewhere.”] I was singing it to myself in the water and realized this is not contextually appropriate. It was my kind of humor so it was a nice way to kind of diffuse the tension of competing."

Allyson Felix, Track and Field

"As athletes, we rely so much on that motivation from musicians and what they do. You’re listening to their music in the warm-up field to get you pumped up. And I’m very specific. I have to listen to Beyoncé’s “Diva.” I have to get that alter ego on. I have to go to that different place. I’m a really laid back person, but when it comes to the track I’ve got to switch it on."

Maggie Steffens, Water Polo

"I love happy music, but I’m really odd about my music. For example, in 2012 before every single game I listened to like 10 different songs and had to make sure I got through all of them. One of them was “Lucky Strike” by Maroon 5, which isn’t one of their popular songs but one of the lyrics really stuck with me. And then I heard this song called “Rise Up” by Andra Day — who performed at the Team USA Awards — and that song is like the epitome of the Olympic movement. It’s an incredible song. So when I need some inspiration I go to that."

Kayla Banwarth, Volleyball

"We listen to a lot of pop and hip-hop in the locker room. I listen to Broadway show tunes sometimes. It’s kind of weird but it’s inspiring to me. The music and the lyrics speak to me and get my soul stirring a little bit."

Lexi Thompson, Golf

"I love music. And I can memorize lyrics pretty well. I love The Weeknd. That’s like my No. 1 artist right now. I’m always listening to him before I tee off. It always gets me in a good mood. It makes me relax. His voice is amazing; the beats of the song. I saw him in concert once and it was unbelievable. But up in the gym I usually listen to hard rock."

Kaitlyn Verfuerth, Wheelchair Tennis

"I really like Katy Perry. Her song “Roar” is something that gives me goose bumps when I listen to it. It really gets me pumped up. I like Pitbull when I’m working out because it makes you want to keep moving."

Tatyana McFadden, Paralympic Track and Field

"I like hip-hop. I love Beyoncé. She’s my favorite. I also love Destiny’s Child, TLC — mostly 90’s hip-hop. It was the best era. They are all just a cool group of girls. They worked hard to become who they are. And each song/artist brings out a new vibe or feeling when I am working out and helps me push through a tough day in the gym or on the track."

Mariya Koroleva, Synchronized Swimming

"Sometimes I listen to rap, but most recently I’ve been listening to Russian music — not like Russian folk music — but kind of like pop. I’ve always stayed connected with that part of my heritage and my culture, so that’s what I enjoy."

Mackenzie Brown, Archery

"I listen to all kinds of music. There’s not really a whole lot I don’t listen to, except I don’t like angry music. And I don’t like super hard rock. A lot of the guys will listen to that when they’re working out to get pumped up but I tend to listen to country music. It’s my roots. I’m from Texas. I listen to Christian rap as well. It’s kind of weird but that’s my roots as well because I’m from a Christian family. The one song I listen to that gets me pumped up is called “Mainstream” by Gideonz Army.

Lily Zhang, Table Tennis

"I have two pump-up songs that I listen to before every match, both by Eminem: “Lose Yourself” and “Till I Collapse.” The lyrics are so in tune with sports — or whatever you’re trying to do."

Meb Keflezighi, Track and Field

"I love music. As an athlete, I always think of the lyrics in Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” You only get one shot and one opportunity. You’ve got to seize the moment. He’s motivating. So is the music I listen to sometimes in my native language, Tigrinya. They sing about war and what the soldiers have been through. Those songs are deep. So when it comes to battling it out in a race, I use that as inspiration."

Related Athletes

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Alysia Montano

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Jamie Whitmore

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Allyson Felix

Track and Field
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Maggie Steffens

Water Polo
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Kayla Banwarth

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Kaitlyn Verfuerth

Wheelchair Tennis
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Tatyana McFadden

Nordic Skiing
US Paralympics
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Mariya Koroleva

Artistic Swimming
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Mackenzie Brown

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Mebrahtom Keflezighi

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Lily Zhang

Table Tennis