Over the weekend, snowboarder Hannah Teter told her boyfriend that she planned to listen to his band's song "Communicate" on her iPod during her Olympic halfpipe routine. This made him a bit nervous.
"It's a heartbreak song, basically," said Eli Lieberman, 28, whose tune is about lost love and "cascading" tears. "I was like, uh, Hannah, don't you think that's a little mellow?"
Apparently she did not. As the world now knows, Teter - who was seen dancing before her final run - won gold Monday. And when she told journalists about her secret groove, Lieberman's punk reggae band made out pretty well too: Strive Roots' Web site, which averages a few thousand hits a month, scored 37,000 one morning this week alone.
But the biggest winner of all may have been Apple, maker of the tiny iPod that soared to glory along with Teter. This Olympics, U.S. snowboarders have competed while listening to the personal music device, and skiers, speed skaters and other Olympians from all over the world have been observed listening raptly during practice and before competing.
All of which makes for great press.
"One of the lasting images of these games is going to be these snowboarders with their iPods," said Abraham Madkour, executive editor of SportsBusiness Journal, a trade magazine that covers the sports industry. "It's the perfect form of subconscious marketing."
It's especially perfect for Apple because it doesn't pay a dime for the display. The company is not an Olympic sponsor.
"We don't target athletes," said Stan Ng, director of iPod product marketing.
Olympians provide their own iPods or other MP3 players - although U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Darryl Seibel said that a personal music device company is "a sponsorship waiting to happen."
Indeed. The U.S. snowboarding team's pinstriped uniforms are already wired for the machines, with a nifty iPod-size pocket, speakers in the hood and a control panel on the left sleeve that allows the athletes to select songs.
"Wearing the hood you don't have to worry about the silly little white earphones falling out," said Silvie Snow-Thomas, a spokeswoman for Burton Snowboards, which makes the outfits. "The jacket was a natural development, new tech, because snowboarders are very hip and cool and always on the cutting edge."
Shaun White, the 19-year-old snowboarder, also uses an iPod-equipped helmet, which - according to newspaper accounts - frequently pipes in Led Zeppelin or, during his recent gold medal routine, AC/DC's "Back in Black."
During her silver medal performance Monday, snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler listened to Green Day's "Holiday." Joey Cheek, who won the men's 500 meters in speed skating, likes hearing Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" before races. Kimmie Meissner, the 16-year-old figure skater from Bel Air, listens to "I Like to Move It" by Reel 2 Real on the gold iPod mini she totes around Italy - although her official routine is set to the more soothing sounds of Ottorino Respighi's "Belkis, Queen of Sheba."
Experts say the proliferation of iPods this Olympics merely highlights the long-standing relationship between athletics and music. Competitors have long been known to rock out before performances or during practices, in order to relax or to reach their ideal "arousal levels," according to Sam Zizzi, a professor of sport and exercise psychology at West Virginia University.
"Athletes and teams have been doing this for decades," he said, adding that the type of music varies with the energy level of the sport. "Weightlifters want to get fired up, with heavier rock music, or dance music with a strong beat. In the luge you'd want to be relaxed; maybe listen to some Miles Davis."
The Sony Walkman, Discman and the MP3 player have all served to provide game-day soundtracks over the years. But CD players have been known to skip. Cassette players are bulky and, especially in frigid Alpine environments like the mountains around Turin, "the batteries run out," said Don Orr, the editor of snowboarding.com, a news and equipment Web site.
That's where iPod scores big. Its small size and digital technology facilitate listening in extreme situations - such as being upside down, in the middle of a 1080 toe grab, during a once-in-a-lifetime Olympic routine. Athletes of all kinds use iPods - from Vince Carter, the NBA player who was reprimanded in 2004 for listening during layup practice, to members of the Orioles and Ravens - but snowboarders are the machine's natural ambassadors on the Olympic stage. Theirs is a very music-oriented sport: Competitions are frequently set to blaring rock anthems. (In Turin, selections are provided by the evocatively named DJ Chainsaw.)
The iPod - which was unveiled in 2001 - has been part of Winter X Games for several years, according to Melissa Gullotti, a spokeswoman for the extreme sports event, which includes snowboarding.
"These athletes have always been listening," Gullotti said. "Music is part of the genre and the lifestyle."