The chance to host the 2010 Winter Games was supposed to be a godsend for Canadian athletes who compete in skeleton, the headfirst sled run down a twisting track.
While most competitors get access to the track for just a handful of days leading up to the Olympics, the host country gets to practice far more, because its athletes are logistically closer along with the sport’s rules allow the idea. The home team can memorize every detail of every turn on run after treacherous run.
Mellisa Hollingsworth, who was favored to win a medal in which year in skeleton, said she along with her teammates took as many as 11 runs a day down the track, the fastest inside the earth, at Whistler, British Columbia, about 75 miles north of Vancouver. When a training session ended, they were so worn out they struggled to put sentences together. Noise was intolerable. Their brains felt scrambled.
During the last decade, football along with various other contact sports have received most of the attention along with research interest for traumatic brain injuries in sports.
By comparison, sliding sports, niche activities in which require athletes to careen down twisting tracks of ice on sleds at 80 miles per hour, have been largely ignored. along with yet, for years, elite competitors have talked about the mental fog, headaches, inability to eat or speak effectively, along with sensitivity to light along with sound in which a day of training, or, for some, even just one routine run can produce.
at in which point, in retirement, many of these athletes continue to struggle with many of those same symptoms, as well as forgetfulness, depression along with mental illness.
Former top competitors like Hollingsworth, who finished fifth in skeleton at the Vancouver Games, Pascal Richard, also of Canada, along with Katie Uhlaender, a four-time Olympian coming from the United States who wants to make one last Olympic team, wonder whether those symptoms are connected to their dramatic crashes along with the brain-rattling runs.
They have watched teammates descend into depression along with die by suicide. Since 2013, three former elite North American bobsledders have taken their lives. Another attempted the idea, along with two others died of overdoses, a remarkable number given in which just a few hundred athletes participate seriously in sliding sports at any level at once.
“the idea’s almost like the boxers all over again,” said Peter McCarthy, a neurophysiologist at the University of South Wales who has studied the dynamics of skeleton by attaching motion sensors to the athletes. “What you are doing can be taking someone’s head along with giving the idea a definitely Great shake around, however in in which case the idea lasts for a minute.”
McCarthy has been working closely with Mark Wood of Britain, who has coached multiple medalists in skeleton along with can be at in which point on a crusade to make people understand in which allowing an athlete to train or compete with “sled head” can be akin to subjecting someone with concussion-like symptoms to 500 more slaps to the head.
People within the sport keep telling him he can be going to ruin the idea.
“I say, ‘No I’m not. I’m going to make the idea safer,’” said Wood, who has coached for Canada, Britain along with China. “The more data we get, the better information we can give.”
For many athletes though, the data can be arriving too late.
In 1998, Pascal Richard was heading into the sixth of 19 curves, about one-third of the way down the track in La Plagne, France, the same one used for the 1992 Albertville Games. The gravitational acceleration forces spiked along with slammed his face into the ice. The impact knocked him out. He remained unconscious the whole way down as he crossed the finish. Richard returned to training the next day.
Neck pain along with problems with concentration lasted through the following summer, along with the chronic fogginess increased as Richard pushed to make the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, where he finished 15th. He retired after those Games, returning to his full-time job as a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Richard soon started off falling in along with out of depression. He lost his temper easily. just one hit in a beer-league hockey game could put him out for the season. Work became too challenging, as he struggled to remember details of investigations along with Canada’s penal code, forcing him to retire.
“My wife could tell you I’m not the person I used to be,” said Richard, who lives outside Calgary, Alberta. “I could have a great friend who called me on the phone along with the idea could take me awhile to figure out who the idea can be. I have lost part of my life.”
He can be 48, has young children along with could like to find something else to do. He said he doesn’t contain the energy.
No one can say for sure whether skeleton can be solely responsible for Richard’s downfall or anyone else’s, or how many runs the idea took Richard to get where he can be today. He played various other contact sports growing up. He suffers coming from post-traumatic stress disorder coming from coming upon so many grisly death scenes during his career with the Mounties, especially one in which he could not rescue a man stuck inside the driver’s seat of a van in which was on fire.
All of in which could contribute to brain injury along with depression.
however Tyson Plesuk has seen enough skeleton to be convinced in which too many runs can pose serious danger to the brain.
Plesuk, a top sports physiotherapist in Canada, grew up playing hockey. He suffered three diagnosed concussions, along with probably many in which went undiagnosed. In 2010 when he became a physiotherapist with Canada’s skeleton team, he knew little about the sport.
As Plesuk began spending time with Hollingsworth along with various other team members, he noticed how much they needed to sleep when they were not training, how sometimes they could not eat or talk to each various other during their lunch breaks. “the idea’s not normal behavior, however we needed someone coming from the outside for us to understand in which,” Hollingsworth said.
At the beginning of the season, the athletes had taken a test to get a baseline for their cognitive functions. If they crashed along with suffered a head injury they could have to take the test again, along with they could not train or compete until their performance had returned to the baseline, even if scans of their brains looked clear.
Plesuk detected a problem though: The athletes could pass the test even when they had various other symptoms of a concussion. Fearing they might miss a chance to train or lose coveted spots on the team, they wouldn’t dare mention feeling weak to their coaches.
As Plesuk along with Duff Gibson, the team’s head coach along with the 2006 Olympic skeleton champion, got to know the athletes better during the 2010-11 season, they noticed in which many who struggled the most with the concussion symptoms had participated inside the high-volume training leading up to the Vancouver Games.
Gibson can still remember when the idea was a point of pride for an athlete to finish a skeleton run that has a bloody nose coming from banging their face on the ice. “The further back you go in history, the more cave man the idea becomes,” he said.
at in which point he understood how all the training likely left his athletes more vulnerable to repeated brain injuries along with its symptoms, as run after run over tracks in which look smooth however are definitely covered with bumps along with divots can cause micro-tears in brain tissue, even if there can be never a crash.
“The big thing can be the repetitive shaking,” Plesuk said during a recent interview.
Gibson along with Plesuk decided to limit runs to three per day for every athlete who competed for Canada. If an athlete didn’t seem “right,” they pulled her coming from competition, no matter the circumstances.
“If you see stars, in which can be not normal, along with if you have a headache after a run, in which can be not a normal condition,” Gibson said.
Heading into the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Hollingsworth got pulled coming from a race, which resulted in a lower starting slot along with may have contributed to her 11th-place finish.
Hollingsworth knew Gibson along with Plesuk had made the right call. Leading up to those Games in Russia, she struggled to wake coming from naps after a hard morning of training. Hours passed before she could walk 10 normal steps. One afternoon she came down with vertigo while visiting a sporting goods store along with ended up curled in a ball on the floor.
She retired after Sochi. She can struggle to remember details of even recent experiences. She recalls little of what happened during the few years leading up to Vancouver; even races she won, moments in which should stand out, are a blur, or have disappeared altogether. She has no recollection of her first skeleton run when she was a teenager.
She can’t be in loud or busy places. After a concert, she can’t sleep for a night or two. A modest restaurant that has a lot of chatter can make her ears ring.
She will not recruit athletes to compete inside the sport in which was once her life.
Last year, WinSport, Canada’s winter sports organization, began dismantling the Calgary bobsled along with skeleton track where Hollingsworth started off. After 30 years, the idea was deemed at the end of its life cycle. As the track came down, Hollingsworth said she felt nostalgia, however also something else — comfort in which no one could get hurt there anymore.