Intuitively, it makes sense: Don't exert yourself more than you have to, and save up any pent-up aggression for the game.
But sex "simply is not that much of an energy drain," said Dr. Tommy Boone, chair of the Department of Exercise Physiology at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minn. "It's a myth, just wrong information."
Boone tested that theory several years ago, measuring aerobic power and cardiac output of 11 men who had sex the night before an intense treadmill run. Their physiological statistics were the same as when they didn't fool around.
"There is simply no reason to speculate that a sexual encounter would decrease athletic abilities, and this applies across the board: young, middle-aged, male, female," he said.
A Performance Booster?
Intercourse may even increase an athlete's competitive edge.
In his book The Perfect Jump, sportscaster Dick Schaap writes about Bob Beamon's night before he won the long jump gold medal:
"At the moment of orgasm, he was suddenly overcome with the horrible feeling that he had blown it, that his chances for a gold medal and for the world record he had boldly predicted he would achieve had been thrown away right there in bed."
"It's not a good idea. Fooling around weakens the legs," said Grant Rowe, a 19-year-old swimmer for Denison University in Granville, Ohio.
Experts once believed testosterone levels, and therefore aggression, were higher when an athlete abstained before competition. But Emmanuele Jannini of the University of L'Aquila in Italy found after studying 80 men there was a rise in testosterone after sex, which he linked to an improved athletic performance.
Despite the possible positive effects of sex, a serious lack of free time prevents many athletes from priming the hormonal pump the night before.
"It isn't really an issue," said Aaron Heifetz, a representative of the United States Women's Soccer Team. "The husbands and boyfriends may be there, but they don't stay with the women." All they do is eat, sleep, train and travel, he said.
Some coaches prevent family members from seeing athletes before contests and have strict rules about socialization.
"It's a standing rule that when we are in camp or competition that they minimize anything that can drain their energy," said Allan Serrano, assistant coach to the U.S. biathlon team. "We don't discourage them from being social, but we try to have them focus on their performance, to keep the focus on competition."
Some organizations are more lenient, even requesting that family members tag along to the games. USA Basketball, for one, has no rules regarding sexual activity before a game — that decision is left to each player, according to Craig Miller, an USA Basketball spokesman. "We do encourage the players to bring their families because of the nature of the event, and family members can stay with them," Miller said.
Olympians who do choose to use some of 50,000 free prophylactics at the Sydney Summer Olympics must remember one thing: moderation. Only abnormally long love sessions could cause performance problems, Boone said.
But will the athletes find time for some personal fun in Australia? We'll find out on October 1, 2000, when the remaining condoms are counted.