Sochi mysteries: Why did Julia Lipnitskaia get an ear rub before her figure skating routine?

Heading into Wednesday's short program, Russian Julia Lipnitskaia, the breakout star of the team competition, was one of the favorites 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, as this video from NBC proves, Lipnitskaia received an ear rub from her coach before stepping on the ice. 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. You can see a similar rub in this photo of a Russian gymnast (via GoldenSkate).

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.

[Photos: Olympians share pre-game rituals and inspirations]

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.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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