It’s a two-way street of mutual appreciation, with his old man Joseph returning a middle finger straight back at the swimmer. Speaking to NY Daily News, Joseph says that the motivational tradition started when Santo was just eight years old and competing in races with older swimmers. “It became a good ritual for both of us. He got a lot of his aggravation out with just a really simple ‘give it to the world’ rather than keep it internalized. It calms him down on the blocks for sure,” he said.
— Coop the Comedian (@VerifiedCoop) August 5, 2016
Santo too recalls his Joseph’s early sage advice. “’You’ve got to build your confidence yourself and say ‘eff everybody else that you’re racing.’ He said, ‘Every time you’re behind the blocks, give me the finger and I’ll give it back to you,'” he recalls his father telling him.
However, the “middle fingers up to my competition” approach has landed Santo in trouble in the past. During a junior national competition, he was forced to write a letter of apology after a television camera captured him giving gesture with a fully extended arm. Now, he’s refined his flipping off techniques for the Rio Olympics. “I just put it in the middle of my forehead now. I’m not trying to piss people off,” he said.
Santo will be competing in the 50 metre and 100 metre freestyle races this week, so catch him and his ritual in Olympic action then:
Image via Chris Young/CP