a diver midair
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No, It's Not a Fashion Statement: Here's Why Olympic Divers Wear Tape

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Aug. 3 2021, Published 5:18 p.m. ET

If you’ve been tuning into the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, chances are you’ve probably noticed that many athletes have some pretty strange pre-competition rituals. From diver Tom Daley knitting his way through the games to track and fielder Vashti Cunningham watching Kill Bill and going to Bible study before every competition, there are few things high-level athletes won’t do to keep their heads in the game.

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In diving, audiences have noticed that competitors are often wearing tape on various parts of their bodies. Some athletes have it on their back, others on their shoulders or legs, which has left viewers puzzled. What exactly is this tape? Is it for aesthetic purposes or does it do something to help keep the divers in shape? Keep reading to find out what the tape is for and why the divers use it.

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Why do Olympic divers wear tape?

Diving became an official Olympic sport in the 1904 Games in St. Louis, and since then it has become one of the most popular and watched events at the Summer Games. At this year's Tokyo Olympics, many viewers have noticed that the world's best divers often wear strange-looking tape on different parts of their bodies.

At it turns out, this tape is called kinesiology therapeutic tape, or “KT tape,” and is a special type of tape that is supposed to relieve joint, ligament, and muscle pain. Divers usually wear this tape on their wrists, joints, and areas of the body that hit the water with a high impact during their dives.

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The tape is said to lower the chances of divers experiencing swelling or lowered mobility due to the repeated impact of the water on their bodies. Since they can hit the water at up to 35 miles an hour when diving off the 10-meter board, it makes sense that they would wear supports to lessen the impact.

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However, The Atlantic reported in 2012 that studies indicated “there was little quality evidence to support the use of KT over other types of elastic taping in the management or prevention of sports injuries.” The studies concluded that the tape “may have a small beneficial role,” but that more research was needed to confirm those findings.

So, if there’s so little evidence for KT tape’s benefits, why do athletes still use it? As The Atlantic notes, maybe athletes believing they have an edge with the tape is just what they need to actually get that edge over the competition. Basically, just fake it till you make it.

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Why do divers use such small towels?

Fans of diving may also have noticed that for a sport that requires you to get completely drenched, the divers tend to use absurdly small towels. They’re lovingly called shammies, and three-time Olympian diver Laura Wilkinson explains that divers use them to dry off after dives so they can stay “warm and loose” and, more importantly, so they don’t slip out of their dive by losing their grip on their legs if they were wet.

She also says that the repeated ritual of drying off before every new dive becomes a comforting habit, “kind of like our safety blanket.” Given the immense mental and physical pressure these athletes are under, it’s only understandable that they would use every trick in the book to secure the gold.

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