Not Just for Babies
Olympic athletes are super-disciplined individuals who believe that winning comes from an insanely strict regimen of hard work, focus, and determination.
But that doesn't mean they don't also believe in good luck charms. (Though they probably don't believe in Lucky Charms. Empty carbs, y'all.)
It makes sense, after all, to have some object of comfort to help give a tightly-wound athlete a few warm fuzzies. The security blanket of choice? An adorable teddy bear.
In Amanda Beard's case, it makes complete sense—she was only fourteen when she won her first gold medal. But in reality, the teddy bear was more of an embarrassing accident than a reflection of reality:
Taking my sisters up on their dare, I carried Harold to my event at the trials, dropping him at the starting blocks before racing. Right after winning, I grabbed Harold and someone snapped a picture of the two of us, grinning like idiots. Instantly, the picture was everywhere.
The image perfectly captured what people wanted to see: as my sisters put it, an innocent and her bear. The fantasy was of some mythical girl who could win the Olympics while still remaining pure and sweet. The driving competitive urges and the countless hours of willing my mind to bend around searing physical pain were annihilated in an instant by Harold's cuddliness. (In the Water They Can't See You Cry)
It was pretty unfortunate that the press really jumped on that image, but Beard is right: it was a compelling fantasy. Teddy bears, after all, are the perfect symbol of innocence and youth.
For Greg Louganis, having his teddy was actually a huge help. In his memoir he wrote:
Garvey was my constant companion at the '84 Olympics. He actually did give me strength, because he was the one safe person I could talk to. I never had to worry about him judging me or talking back. It's amazing that a stuffed animal can give you strength, but it did. Many athletes use a small object to focus their concentration. Thanks to Mrs. Lee, my object of choice was a teddy bear, which for some reason the press and the public felt matched my personality. (Breaking the Surface)
So in his case, the teddy bear was a silent companion without judgment or reproach. We know exactly how you feel: we cuddled our Teddy until his ears fell off.