In An Olympic Year, Athletes May Take More Risk For More Reward
It's an Olympic year! As a veteran of four Olympic games, I've seen my share of great performances, memorable athletes, and ... injuries.
Ah yes, the inevitable injuries. Unfortunately, we are sure to see some injury-related happenings at these games.
And here are 4 things to look for in that category as the 2018 winter games rapidly approach.
1. Athletes Risking it All For Their Chance At Glory
The Olympics only come around once every 4 years. Some of our more talented competitors have the chance to compete at more than one Olympic games. But many others get only one shot at it.
So some athletes take risks during an Olympic year. The same risks that they would avoid during an "off year". As they like to say, "no guts, no glory". But there is a fine line between going for your dreams and risking permanent damage to your body.
Here's a good example. Say you are a top downhill racer and you tear your ACL at the start of the world cup season, during an Olympic year. You experience swelling and some lack of mobility. But after a few weeks you've gained back your strength and agility enough to race again. Should you get surgery or continue racing?
If you are one of the top racers, winning on a torn ACL is not a pipe dream. It is possible to continue playing (or, in this case, racing) at a high level with a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament. We don't recommend it, though. Here's why.
The real risk here for our hypothetical athlete in this scenario is doing further damage to the knee. Let's be specific. Your chances of tearing your meniscus (cushion cartilage of the knee) is much higher with a torn ACL. With no ACL, we have an exposed meniscus.
What's the problem with exposing the meniscus to injury? Well, if you tear the meniscus, you are veering into more dangerous territory. As shock absorber of your knee, it gives your knee stability and support. And once it's gone, you end up with painful arthritis.
We can and do perform meniscus transplants, but there are very narrow indications for this procedure. Bottom line is that you are always better off with your own meniscus saved if at all possible.
So what's the right answer here?
In an off year, the athlete in question might shut it down for the season and have the ACL repaired. There's always next year, right? That's not the case in an Olympic year though. This might be their one shot at glory, at etching their name in the history books.
Do you think the chance of going down in history as a champion is worth risking further injury? It may be worth the risk for an athlete who has dedicated their life to this goal.
2. Athletes And Teams Understating the Extent of Injuries
Sometimes you won't hear about specific injuries until after the Olympics. And you may find out later that some competitors have understated the injuries that we do know about.
In this era of the 24 hour news cycle, it's hard to hide information. But in team sports such as ice hockey, teams are sometimes complicit in the practice. Professional football and basketball are other sports where you hear about this.
Sometimes this is an attempt to shield their players from scrutiny. On other occasions, the team wishes to mitigate the chance of the other team "taking a run" at their injured star. (You only see with this in our contact sports.) Regardless of the intent, it's sometimes a surprise to learn that a player went through the entire games with an undisclosed injury, after the fact.
3. Athletes Skipping Events & Resting To Get Ready For The Olympics
Make no mistake about it. The Olympics are THE event for athletes in a certain category of sports. Not for a hockey, basketball, or soccer player making millions with their club team. But imagine you are a sprinter, swimmer, skier, or snowboarder. An Olympic medal blasts your career into overdrive. For the most dominant athletes, sponsors will be lining up at your door to support you. So getting that medal is a big deal.
Because of this, you might see athletes deciding to skip events during the season. In most cases, the athlete makes this choice to ensure full health. We've seen some of our top competitors get injured mere days before an Olympic games. This is total heartbreak for the athlete, their fans, and their support team and coaches.
So if you are an athlete with a sure birth in the Olympics and your place is secure, you might skip a few races in order to ensure your health.
4. Athletes Pushing It During The Olympics - And Getting Injured
The Olympics are the world's greatest stage. So when these athletes get up on that platform, it's time to go hard. You'll see our top performers battling to give their best times. You'll see those who squeaked into the games pushing to cement their place in the field. And you'll see everybody trying to make the leap to the next level.
Be prepared to see some amazing performances at this year's Olympic games. We'll also see the inevitable injury or two. For the world's top athletes, that's part of the game. Luckily, injuries that used to be career-ending are now considered mere setbacks. For the athlete, that means a career that can extend past what used to be possible.
For us lucky fans, it means we get the pleasure of watching the top pros for an extended amount of time. And that's good for the progression of the sports that we love.
Enjoy the Olympics this year. It's sure to be a blast!