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Hot sauce? Turtle? Team USA fencer Eli Dershwitz among Olympians with superstitions

By Talia Massi, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication | July 28, 2021, 9:59 p.m. (ET)

U.S. fencer Eli Deshwitz removes his mask and smiles after competing.

Sports fans and athletes alike have quirks they believe can influence an outcome of a game or match.

A superstition. 

Eli Dershwitz (Harvard, fencing) has “millions of them.” 

Dershwitz, who started fencing by following his older brother, Phil, into the sport, is now a two-time Olympian chasing a medal in Tokyo. 

But he would not have been able to accomplish all that, he said, without his three good luck “charms”: a lucky charm bracelet, a tiny bottle of hot sauce and a glass turtle.

He’s not alone. Olympic athletes have a long history of superstitions. When Ariel Torres learned karate would make its Olympic debut in Tokyo, he inscribed “Tokyo 2020” on his underwear. It’s a pair he wears whenever he competes.

U.S. women’s soccer player Alex Morgan (California, soccer) always puts her right sock on before her left. And former U.S. synchronized divers Kelci Bryan and Abby Johnston used to put a rubber duck between their bags facing the pool when they competed.

Eli’s lucky charm bracelet is made out of soda can tabs courtesy of his twin sister, Sally. 

“I was pretty young. ... I like to fidget, so I think I was always doing little things with my hands,” Sally said. “I didn't even make it as a lucky charm bracelet. I was like, ‘Oh, this is a fun thing to do,’ and he attached the meaning (that) this is lucky,” Sally said. 

The bracelet has been in his bag for every competition since he was 14.

“(It) just kind of reminds me of my family … all the people that have been close to me (and) supported me with everything I need to be a successful athlete for as long as I can remember,” Eli said.

The miniature hot sauce bottle was given to him by a group of kids that attended a coaching training camp a few years ago. He puts hot sauce on everything, but the token has a deeper meaning.

It reminds him how thankful the kids were for his time and effort by giving him something special.

The glass turtle, meanwhile, was a gift from his coach, Zoran Tulum, when Eli was young.

All three are kept in his fencing bag. 

“I can’t go to a tournament without them,” Eli said.

 But it’s not just the trinkets that have to be in order. 

Eli’s pre-tournament routine has to be exact every time, down to the minute. To him, the routine and rituals help him stay “disciplined and consistent.”

“When my results started to improve later on in college and … as a professional, I realized that these were things that helped me stay focused,” he said.

If every aspect of his game was consistent – his warm-up, his nutrition, his hydration, his stretching, etc …, then he did not have to waste his mental energy worrying about the small things. 


Talia Massi, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Talia Massi is a journalism student at Arizona State University. This story is part of a collaboration between the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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Eli Dershwitz