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Medical Professionals at the Olympics Games & the Worst Injuries They’ve Treated

 

The Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games – which was postponed until this year due to the pandemic – are set to begin near the end of July, making it one of the biggest events that have happened since the world closed their doors to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. And as things slowly make a return to normalcy, many spectators are eagerly looking forward to watching their favorite Olympians take on the Olympic Games.

And, if you’re like the many die-hard sports spectators out there, then the chances are high that this isn’t your first Olympic Games. There’s a good chance that you are a proud, American patriot that turns on the games every couple of years and remembers the history of the event – both the good and the bad. The gold medals and the backbreaking injuries.

The athletes that qualify and compete in the Olympic Games train year-round, under fierce competition for the gold medal. They spend hours upon hours perfecting their routines, strengthening their technique and sharpening their skills to bring home the title and victory for their country. But sometimes, that comes with a price. These athletes are pushing the boundaries of what their bodies are physically capable of doing, which creates a big risk of injuries or harming themselves in the process.

Have you ever shuddered while watching a gymnast perform a tricky maneuver on the balance beam when they slip a little or fall to the ground? Luckily, many of these quick, little mistakes result in little-to-no injuries. But when the big injuries happen, there is typically a pretty large team of medical professionals ready to assist.

Medical Professionals Working the Olympic Games

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About 10 percent of athletes, according to Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), will endure an injury of some kind during the Olympic Games. Not only do the medical professionals need to know how to tend to every type of injury, but the healthcare workers that work these games must be prepared to take on and “treat a wide range of illnesses,” due to mass gatherings of people from different countries being in a single space.

Thousands of healthcare professionals with all different backgrounds are hired every two years to remain behind the scenes, to treat stress fractures, muscle strains and other musculoskeletal injuries so that athletes can get back to training or competing unless the injury is so severe that it hampers their ability to compete again.

Not only are healthcare workers hired to treat athletes, but according to an article written by CMAJ, they are also hired to “tend to volunteers, members of the media, coaches, dignitaries, support staff and spectators.” At the London 2012 Olympics Games, there were over 10,000 athletes, around 20,000 accredited members of the media, about 200,000 staff and workers and nearly 8 million tickets sold to spectators to watch the games unfold.

The entire medical operation behind the Olympic Games is a highly planned and organized venture, having to provide medical care at several different locations throughout the event, as well as to mass crowds of people. At the London Games, there was a small station that resembled a hospital that was used to offer “primary care, sports medicine, physiotherapy, optometry, ophthalmology, dental care, medical imaging and podiatry, among other services,” wrote the CMAJ.

So while you might not see all the doctors, nurses and other medical staff behind the scenes working tirelessly to treat injuries or illnesses during the Olympics, just know they are there. Hundreds of them working around the clock, making sure that these major athletes as well as the spectators are receiving the treatment they need. For centuries, the Olympic Games have been going on and athletes have suffered severe injuries, preventing them competing further.

Olympic Games Worst Injuries

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Athletes take years to train for a race or event that’s usually over within minutes. But for them, it’s one of the most challenging, most epic moments of their lives. These elite athletes push the boundaries of what their bodies are capable of doing, and by doing so, they are at great risk of injuring themselves and jeopardizing their goal of winning.

Here are a few notable injuries, according to Sportscasting.com, from past Olympics:

  • 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona: Derek Redmond, from Great Britain, was in the semifinals of the 400-meter race when he “heard a ‘pop’ in his right hamstring and went down almost immediately.” Although his victory was over, Derek got up and limped the remainder of the race. And, the most notable part is that Derek’s father joined him on the track and helped him finish the race.
  • 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul: American diver, Greg Louganis, slammed the back of his head on the board during the preliminary round of the three-meter springboard competition. However, this didn’t stop him from competing or winning a gold medal. He received four temporary stitches and went on to complete his last two dives, winning the gold medal “before going to the hospital to get five ‘real’ stitches.”
  • 2012 Summer Olympics in London: South Korean weightlifter, Sa Jae-hyouk, was attempting to lift 162 kg (or 357 pounds) in the snatch when he dislocated his elbow, leaving him with a gruesome injury to his arm.
  • 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney: Hungarian gymnast, Adrienne Nyeste, was performing a routine on the uneven bars when she lost control, flew through the air and slammed face-first into the mat. Following the accident, she laid on the ground motionless until she “eventually rose to her feet, having avoided what could have been a catastrophic injury.”
  • 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta: American gymnast, Kerri Strug, brought home a gold medal “despite tearing tendons in her ankle during her first attempt” at the vault. After injuring herself, she got back on her feet and went on to stick her second attempt, while landing on one ankle.
  • 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing: In another weightlifting injury, Hungary’s Janos Baranyai was attempting to lift 148 kg (or 326.3 pounds) when he dislocated his right elbow, popping it out of the socket.
  • 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio: France gymnast, Samir Ait Said, fractured his tibia while trying to land during his vault event in the qualifying round of men’s gymnastics. After the injury was over, one of the Team USA basketball players, Paul George, reached out to him because he had a similar experience and knew the pain he was going through.

Competing in the Olympic Games is an honor, a proud moment to display your top athletes from around the world as they compete to bring home the gold medal for their home country. Usually, these competitors start training or discover their athletic talents from a young age and train for decades. It takes an entire team of medical professionals to stay alert and ready for anything that might come their way.

Near the end of July when the Olympic Games begin, try to picture all the medical staff behind the scenes that are doing their best to keep these games going. And, the next time the games are held in the United States, maybe you can consider volunteering or trying to get a position on the medical professional team.