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Why Do People Ring Cowbells At Winter Olympics? The Secret Behind The Cowbell Fever

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Sports fans often pass down the weirdest traditions. Detroit Redwings fans actually hurl octopi on to the the ice after a home game goal, and South African soccer fans play the loud (and sometimes annoying) vuvuzela blow-horn during soccer games. When it comes to strange traditions, sports fans don’t seem to run out of ideas and the Olympics aren't immune. You might catch an odd fan ritual at the upcoming Winter games — people ringing cowbells. It’s not as strange as hurling an octopus, but why do people ring cowbells at the Winter Olympics anyway?

Romper spoke to Elisabeth Halvorson, founder and owner of Cowbells.com, a US-based cowbell company that has been licensed with the United States Olympics Committee in the past and has been supplying cowbells for the winter games for years. She says that there is a plain and simple reason that fans turn to cowbells during the Winter Games. “Mittens don’t clap,” says Halvorson. It makes sense. It’s usually freezing during the Winter Games, so understandably fans are wearing gloves and mittens, which definitely don’t make much noise when you applaud. And when your favorite athletes are zooming past you down the mountain side, cowbells make it easier to cheer them on.

Halvorson explains that cowbells are used as a communication device, allowing fans to communicate with athletes and that enthusiasm helps the athletes perform. “When fans ring their cowbells,” says Halvorson, “the athletes can hear the roaring of the bells from the bottom of the mountain.” She refers to a TIME quote from US Ski Team Gold Medalist, Lindsey Vonn, in which Vonn talks about how hearing cowbells makes her feel like her fans are behind her, comparing the bells to cheerleading.

So how did this cowbell tradition come to be? Halvorson explains that in the early 1900s, when ski racing first began, many athletes were actually farmers. Their cows, along with their sheep and goats, wore cowbells in the summer, but in the winter when the animals were put in the barn, the cowbells would just be hung up for use the next summer. Halvorson says that farmers would just grab the cowbells from the barn and use them to cheer on their friends and athletes during the race. She says not only did it help the fans cheer, it probably also helped them save their vocal chords.

The cowbells widely used during the Olympic games are MOEN bells, says Halvorson, and they have rung in every Winter Olympics since they were first introduced at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympic Games in Norway. She explains that MOEN bells, first produced in Norway by Tobias Moen in 1922, are made of bullet casings from Norwegian military practice ranges. “From bullets to bells,” she says, “they are still made the same way.”

Halvorson’s company supplies cowbells for the Olympics, and was the official supplier of the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah. She says cowbells were the second most popular souvenir of the Salt Lake Games, coming second place to the Roots Olympic Beret. The popularity of cowbell ringing is not just restricted to the Winter Olympics, though. You’ll find cowbells ringing throughout many winter sports all around the world.

However, Halvorson notes that cowbells aren’t solely for winter sports either. Her company has supplied cowbells to world-class bike races and little league baseball games, and she says many people use them for awards and trophies, too. For this year’s Winter Olympics, Halvorson suggests that you can find officially licensed cowbells exclusively at TeamUSA.org.

So now that you know all about the Olympics cowbell fever, you should also know the prescription — more cowbell.

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