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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 August, 2004, 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
The myths of sex before sport
By Jennifer Quinn
BBC News Online Magazine

With the Olympics upon us and 17,000 athletes converging on Athens, they'll be glad to know sex the evening before a big match isn't likely to hinder a performance, and thrilled to find out it just might help.

George Best
Night before no problem

Berti Vogts, the German football manager in 1994, banned his players from sex before games. Linford Christie, the British sprinter, agreed with the notion, saying a romp the night before a race made his legs feel like lead.

In the film Rocky, Mickey - the Italian Stallion's trainer - provided this perspective: "Women weaken legs."

But Casey Stengel, a noted sage of the baseball diamond and no stranger to the shenanigans of athletes, had a different view.

"Being with a woman all night never hurt no professional baseball player," Stengel, a former manager of both the New York Yankees and New York Mets, once said. "It's staying up all night looking for a woman that does him in."

With so many attractive, fit people coming together in Athens, the athlete's village at any Olympics can seem like one big singles club. Every two years, there are stories of how many condoms are distributed - and used - and this Olympiad is no exception.

In Athens, 130,000 condoms and 30,000 packets of lubricant are being made available to the athletes. In Sydney, athletes were given a stash of three condoms a day, but more were brought in when supplies ran low.

There are, no doubt, coaches and chefs de mission who will not view extra-curricular activities with Stengel's benign eye.

Go for the gold?

But according to scientific research, they probably shouldn't fret.

"The night before has no effect on strength or endurance or any of the physical abilities of the athletes," says physiology expert Dr Ian Shrirer, a former president of the Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine. "A lot of people think it has to do with the psychological effects."

Linford Christie
Most elite athletes need to be aggressive to compete at the top levels of their sport, Dr Shrirer says. But there is such a thing as being too aggressive, and that's where sex can make a positive difference.

"Think about that - that's the guy on the football team, who's always getting penalties. Or the guy in soccer who's getting red carded. That's not good for performance," he says.

"It's never been studied, how sex affects the psychological attitude the next day. But if it were true that it decreases aggressiveness, then you might expect it to be detrimental for those who aren't aggressive enough, but beneficial for those who are too aggressive."

And then there's Israeli physician Alexander Olshanietzky, who's all in favour of sex - for female athletes, at least.

Who's game?

"We believe that a woman gets better results in sports competition after orgasm," he said in 1996, before the Atlanta games. "Generally, it's true of high jumpers and runners. The more orgasms, the more chances of winning a medal.

"Coaches generally tell their athletes to abstain before competition. In the case of women, that's the wrong advice."

Maybe best not the hour before, but the night before makes no odds
George Best

But Dr Olshanietzky warned male athletes off going for it the night before a competition, saying that while sex energises women, it just tuckers men out.

George Best, who once said, "I used to go missing a lot - Miss Canada, Miss United Kingdom, Miss Germany", disagrees. He would draw the line at having sex minutes before a match, but the night before? No problem.

"I certainly never found it had any effect on my performance," Best told the Observer. "Maybe best not the hour before, but the night before makes no odds."


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