Alpine skiiers Heidi Kloser, 21, (US); Rok Perko, 28, (Slovenia); Brice Roger, 23, (France); and Maggie Voisin, 15, (US), are some of the athletes whose dreams of an Olympic medal have come to an end. All suffered serious injuries during training or qualifying runs, which will prevent them from competing for medals. Kloser, Perko, Roger, and Voisin have something else in common. Their injuries are now part of the 2014 Olympic’s official injury and illness surveillance system.
The International Olympic Committee initially established the system for the 2004 summer games in Athens. It was limited to athletes participating in team sports, and expanded to all sports for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. For the winter games, the surveillance system was first put in place during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Data from those games was presented by an international team of researchers in a 2010 article published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. It may foretell what may happen at the Olympics in Sochi.
The surveillance system relies on the head physicians for each countries’ National Olympic Committees to submit a report each day which lists any new injury and illness cases. At the Vancouver games, two medical clinics were set up outside the Olympic village and health care providers from those facilities also participated.
An injury was defined as an event in which the athlete had to suspend training or competition for a newly-acquired musculoskeletal injury or concussion, or reinjury. Among the 2,567 athletes, 11.2 percent suffered injuries reported to the surveillance system.
The sports with the highest rate of injuries were: snowboard cross, (35 per 1,000), bobsled (20 per 1,000), alpine freestyle cross (19 per 1,000) and alpine freestyle aerials (19 per 1,000). For female athletes, the sport with the highest rate of injuries was freestyle snowboard cross (73 per 1,000) and alpine freestyle aerials (26 per 1,000). Among the male athletes, the highest rate of injuries were for those participating in short-track speed skating (28 per 1,000), and bobsled (17 per 1,000).
Among all of the 287 injury cases reported, the most common involved the knee (13.7 percent) and head (10.5 percent).
Illness cases were defined as any physical complaint (other than an injury), or exacerbation of a pre-existing health condition, in which the athlete sought medical attention. There were 181 illnesses cases reported to the surveillance system, affecting 7.1 percent of the athletes. Sixty three percent involved conditions involving the respiratory system. The sports category with the highest percentage of athletes reporting illnesses was skating (i.e., hockey, short-track, figure, etc.) Of the 432 athletes participating in skating events, 11.6 percent suffered a reported illness.
Sadly, for some of us, one particular injury from the 2010 Vancouver Olympic games stands out. Nodar David Kumaritashvili, 21, was the luger from Bakuriani, Georgia whose sled crashed during a training run. He was fatally injured.
The researchers fail to mention his name, and simply describe the incident this way:
“A catastrophic injury with death as outcome occurred in luge.”