Rice’s rituals: The golden girl of Australian swimming

Story highlights

Stephanie Rice will defend her Olympic swimming titles at London 2012

Australian has returned to prominence following injury problems

The 24-year-old is one of Australia's most popular Olympic athletes

She has courted controversy out of the pool with postings on Twitter

CNN  — 

Sports stars love their routines. Some, like tennis champion Rafael Nadal, take it to extremes.

The Spaniard obsessively lines up his water bottles before matches, touches the front and back of his shorts, touches each ear and his nose.

Nadal will bring his rituals to the Olympics next month, but he faces a real rival in terms of pre-event preparations.

Take a close look at Stephanie Rice when the Australian swimmer defends her gold medals at London 2012.

“I’m very superstitious, especially before a race. I go through exactly the same routine prior to standing on the block,” she told CNN’s Human to Hero series.

“I do eight arm swings, four goggle presses, four cap touches. It looks really weird but it’s so comfortable to me it comes second nature now.”

Rice won the 200 and 400-meter individual medley titles at Beijing 2008 as a 20-year-old, setting world records in both events, and also had success in the 4x200m freestyle.

She was quite literally the golden girl of Australian swimming – the 400 IM medal was her country’s 400th at a Summer Olympics.

Born: Brisbane, AustraliaAge: 24Event: Swimming – individual medleyHonors: Olympic gold, Beijing 2008 – 200m IM, 400m IM, 4x200m freestyle

  • Commonwealth Games gold, Melbourne 2006 – 200m IM, 400m IM
  • World championship silver, Rome 2009 – 200m IM, 4x200m freestyle
  • World championship bronze, Shanghai 2011 – 400m IM, 4x100m medley; Rome 2009 – 400m IM; Melbourne 2007 – 200m IM, 400m IM
  • Training regime: Up at 5.30 a.m., train two hours, gym for an hour and a half, physio, sleep at 12, train two hours at 4.30 p.m.Shoulder injuries: I had my bursa cleaned out in 2010 and I’ve torn the tendon in my subscap, so I’m trying to manage both of thoseNutrition: I eat the same foods every day – high GI foods, but low sugar. It’s really important to get good protein and good carbohydrates after a big sessionRelaxation: The weekends are the only time I get to switch off, I like to go out for breakfast or the moviesHeroes: Olympic swimming champion Susie O’Neill, Serena Williams, Lance ArmstrongMusic: I listen to anything new, I like upbeat songs that get me in a happy mood

    However, her return to the Olympic stage this year was by no means guaranteed. Having won silver medals at the 2009 world championships, Rice was forced out of competition the following year due to shoulder problems.

    Troublesome tweets

    She also courted controversy as she called the South African rugby team “faggots” on her Twitter account, losing a sponsorship deal with luxury carmaker Jaguar.

    Prior to her departure for London, this month she posted a picture of herself in a skimpy designer bikini she had got for her 24th birthday. Perhaps it is no coincidence that she was voted Australia’s most popular Olympic athlete in a recent newspaper poll.

    It came soon after two fellow Australian swimmers were censored for posting pictures of themselves bearing pistols.

    “I believe truly in superstition and karma, and everything happens for a reason,” Rice said. “I believe that if I can do the best job I can, and I always try to give 100% and enjoy what I’m doing, then I believe it will come back to you.

    “It doesn’t necessarily have to be in the form of winning or getting achievement out of it, it’s more about the experience that you get from something. I’ve learned a lot out of negative outcomes as well as positive outcomes.”

    Overcoming injury

    After missing out on defending her titles at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, Rice faced a battle to qualify for London 2012 following her surgeries – another shoulder operation was needed in December – but she triumphed at the Australian trials in March with times that put her back up with the world’s best.

    “You definitely have days where you feel like it’s not going to plan, and especially the surgeries I’ve been through I’ve definitely had times I’ve thought, ‘Why is this happening to me now, is this a sign it’s not meant to happen for me now?’

    “But I try to quickly turn the negatives to positives, try to think of it like it’s just a test of character and it’s going to make me stronger and more prepared for something that is hopefully going to happen later on.”

    Achieving a dream

    Success came early for Rice when she upstaged Australian Olympians Brooke Hanson and Lara Carroll at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, three months before her 18th birthday.

    “Three months out of finishing school, that was the time I really thought I could make a job out of what I love to do,” she said.

    “The Olympics had basically been a childhood dream, and to make that dream become a reality four years ago … I thought I’d (already) achieved my lifetime goal at 18.

    “So I really had to sit down with my coach and reassess what I was actually going to hopefully achieve at the Olympics. So now to be able to represent Australia twice, it’s a huge goal and I guess from here on in I’m so thankful and appreciative for what I’ve achieved, so I take a lot pressure off this time around and just try to enjoy the experience.”

    A star is born

    Rice’s transition from promising swimmer to worldwide sporting stardom was one she welcomed. Having dated fellow swimmer Eamon Sullivan before Beijing, she went out with Australian rugby star Quade Cooper until earlier this year and has become a celebrity in her homeland.

    “It was really exciting in many ways – I’ve always enjoyed the media, I’ve always wanted to be an inspiration to younger kids or older people,” she said.

    “It definitely had its tough times, and there are times you wish you could switch it off and just be the normal person I was prior to Beijing, but it comes along with part of the sacrifices that you have to make and I don’t think of it as a negative thing.

    “You just have to be a lot more aware of who you’re around and what you’re doing. There’s definitely times you can be a normal person, you just have to do it in the right environment.

    “My goal is to give something of myself to everyone. I don’t find that a negative thing, it’s flattering, to engage with people and give them a bit of fun.”

    Role model

    But for all the non-sporting distractions, Rice is determined to focus on her pool ambitions.

    “I have always been 100% dedicated to what I do, which is why I never studied and swam at the same time – I always put my heart into everything that I do,” she says.

    “I just try to be a positive role model for the people around me, but more just to be really happy with the person I am and try to give that off to other people.”