CHICAGO (AP) — Long before the Olympics, Kami Craig was just another homesick kid at her first travel water polo tournament. She called her mom, Dale, and mothers being who they are, she drove from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles to see her little girl.
She brought along a bag of Almond Joys and a little stuffed kitten. Almost 20 years later, the candy is long gone, but Mama Kitty is still going strong.
"She goes 'Well, I want you to keep it in your bag and if you ever miss me you'll have her and she can remind you of me,' and so I said 'OK,'" Craig said.
That's how Mama Kitty became a fixture in Craig's water polo bag as she rose to prominence at the University of Southern California and traveled the world with the U.S. national team. And when the 29-year-old Craig tries to win a second straight gold medal this summer, the stuffed animal will be right by her side in Rio.
For Gevvie Stone, it's a beaded bracelet she got from her sister. Evelyn Stevens also has a lucky bracelet, and Oakley sunglasses for her races. April Ross wears a necklace she got from her mom while she was in high school.
The Associated Press asked several Olympians about the most important thing they're packing for Brazil. Their responses covered the spectrum from sentimental to practical, with many tracing back to their very beginnings in their respective sports.
APRIL ROSS, BEACH VOLLEYBALL
"I now wear a necklace with the first letter of my mom's name (Margie) on it to honor her and her contribution to me as a person and an athlete. At the Games, though, I will wear the necklace she gave me in high school, it's the traditional heart from Tiffany's, and it was such a big deal when she gave it to me that it just brings back really great memories as well as feeling like I have a physical piece of her close to my heart. Everyone else will be there in person and while I know she'll be watching from above I like having a little something else to represent her presence."
STEVEN LOPEZ, TAEKWONDO
"Faith/spirituality I feel has been a huge component to my success. It brings me solace and strength and no matter how many times you read the bible you find something more you can learn from it. That is why I always bring my bible with me.
"I bring a journal with me because it helps me express what I am feeling/thinking and going through in such an important time in my life. It's also a great way to go back and reflect when time has gone by to bring you back to that moment in your life."
EVELYN STEVENS, CYCLING
"I will pack my lucky bracelet and Oakley glasses for Rio. The bracelet is from a shop called Eden on Cape Cod, my mother gave it to me for my birthday in 2012 and I haven't taken it off since (it has a few scratches from a couple of crashes). It is a nice reminder of my family when I am on the road and I will definitely be wearing it during the Games. I have been racing in Oakley glasses for the past 4 years. I am definitely superstitious but I think more than anything when I put on the glasses, I know it is race day and I am ready to give it my all. They are coming as well.
GEVVIE STONE, ROWING
"About a month prior to my competing at the London Olympics, my sister was hospitalized. She was inpatient on my birthday and made me a beaded bracelet as a gift. I tied it to the shoes in my boat in London to remind me how lucky I am. It then came home with me and was tied to the shoes in my boat in Boston until I switched boats this fall. It's lost length in the tying and retying and is now too short to be tied to the shoes, but I will bring it with me to Rio."
JAY SHI, FREE PISTOL
"If there's one thing I must have, it would be the music on my phone. About an hour before a match, we start to zoom in and filter everything out. I listen to music before the match to get myself into that moment. For me, I like Eminem. That gets me into it. Linkin Park also is good. I listen to it pretty much to get myself calm before the match and into the focus. Eminem has a song, I forget the name, where he describes how he felt all the way to the bottom and how he had to do everything to get back up. That's kind of like me because after my first nationals, I pretty much went straight down the cliff. I didn't know it at the time it was because I didn't have the fundamentals, I was trying different things, everything was just not working. Once I hit rock bottom, I started figuring things out then I started to balance that back up, which is kind of like his career and I can relate to that."
DAVID BOUDIA, DIVING
"I always bring, and will certainly have my shammy, "Sammy" with me. It is so important to be dry during your dive so that your hands do not slip while getting into your dive positions, by grabbing your legs and your hands, upon entry into the water. It can be a game changer!"
AP Sports Writer John Marshall contributed to this report.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap