Accessibility links

Sports Medicine Helps Olympic Athletes Improve Performance, Avoid Injuries - 2002-02-22

Sports medicine is helping Olympic athletes improve their performance and avoid injuries. An Olympic health official says science is also helping athletes select their best competitive sport.

Doug Fonnesbeck of Intermountain Health Care says his nonprofit organization runs one of the leading training and testing facilities for winter athletics in the United States. At one time or other, all of the top American speedskaters, snowboarders and bobsledders come through his facility, which also serves athletes from other countries.

In addition, his center now operates Olympic medical clinics for athletes and visitors, in conjunction with the University of Utah.

Mr. Fonnesbeck says a few years ago, the United States lagged behind some European countries in understanding winter sports and the risks they pose to athletes. "I was at a meeting in Colorado years ago with the U.S. ski team, and sent down the sports science people, and figured out that we weren't very sophisticated. And I was really disappointed and thought, here's America and we've got this thing down pat. Come to find out we don't, compared to places like Austria," he says.

Mr. Fonnesbeck says since then, U.S. medical specialists have improved their understanding of winter athletics. "They can now predict what kind of event you should participate in, whether it's the cross-country event, whether you have the residual (lung) volume that nature gave you that gives you the ability to run 15 miles on skis and still stand up, and the others that are downhillers," he says.

Mr. Fonnesbeck says people with powerful legs make successful downhill skiers, with the right training. He adds that nearly all world-class skiers damage their knees at some point, and one of the challenges facing his center is preventing those injuries. "So if we could prevent those kinds of things and strengthen them, make it safe going down those runs and improve their performance, that's what we'd like to do as a sports science center," he says.

The official worries that youngsters who are watching the Olympics will try to duplicate what they see, unaware of the dangers of snowboarding and skiing.

Alisa Camplin, the Australian gold medal winner for freestyle aerials, shares his concern. The 27-year-old skier earned the gold with a triple-twisting double-back-flip after the favored Australian, Jacqui Cooper, injured her knee in training. Camplin says maneuvers like hers require extensive training. "Listen. That's not like something you go and do day to day. It's a huge preparation and it's taken me seven years to be able to do that. We do trampolines, we jump into water first. There's a very strong safety bias with the sport," she says.

Health center official Doug Fonnesbeck says he is also keeping an eye on injury-prone reporters, after two cameramen rolled down a hill as they shot pictures of a ski jump.