The Sochi Network

Mystery solved: Why stars get ears massaged before competition

Julia Lipnitskaia

Heading into Wednesday's short program, Russian Julia Lipnitskaia - the breakout star of the team competition - was one of the favourites to win gold in women's figure skating.

Although a fall saw her dip to fifth entering the free skate, there's no doubting that the 15-year-old approached the challenge with uncommon poise and intensity. She came in focused and determined.

And, like any great athlete, she prepared for competition by receiving a vigorous ear rub.

Wait. What?

Yes, Lipnitskaia never ventures onto the ice until she has received an ear rub from her coach:

Julia Lipnitskaia gets a good old-fashioned ear rub (NBC screen grab)

And here's a clip, courtesy of somebody on Vine:

You can see a similar rub in this photo of another Russian star, for example.

The ear rubs have got fans chatting on social media:

As odd as it might seem, it's actually a fairly standard practice in Russia. Coaches will often rub the ears of their athletes, supposedly because it keeps them calm and relaxed.

Those readers who've had professional massages in the past might notice it as well. It's a common technique to hit pressure points and reduce stress.

This particular rub, sadly, did not help Lipnitskaia put herself into position to win gold. Lipnitskaia has a long way to go to reach the podium considering she's 3.4 points behind Gracie Gold, the 18-year-old American in fourth place.

It's anyone's guess as to how well these ear rubs actually work, but it's not totally nuts considering that many athletes all over the world have much weirder superstitions and pre-game routines.

If Lipnitskaia and other Russian athletes think it works, then it probably does. The placebo effect can be a wonderful thing.

Eric Freeman, Yahoo!