Why Rio Olympics Feel More Dangerous for Athletes

Dr. Jason Koh talks injuries, recovery and best practices for Olympic athletes at the Rio Games

The 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro have shown viewers gold medal wins, heartbreaking losses and plenty of injuries.

In the first three days of the games, Olympic fans witnessed intense moments, from French gymnast Samir Ait Said breaking his leg during the men’s vault performance to Vincenzo Nibali suffering a broken collarbone from a crash between cyclists.

"It is always disturbing to see amazing athletes suffer pretty horrific accidents," Dr. Jason Koh, orthopedic surgeon at NorthShore University Health System, said. "Athletes in the Olympics try to push themselves as hard as they can on the world stage, push it to the limit and go for the gold."

Koh, who has worked with athletes from the Chicago Cubs, Joffrey Ballet and Cirque de Soleil, said expectations are higher than ever for Olympic athletes, which prompts them to push beyond what their bodies are physically able to do.

In sports such as cycling, Koh cites modern-day course design as a factor in high-speed injuries. The Tour de France, for example, consists of many twists and turns that could accelerate the expectations of riders and their bikes.  

“With cycling, accidents are not uncommon. Course design may put them at high risk, but it is not that unusual,” Koh said. 

Another influence on injuries could stem from the structure of bike equipment not holding up.

For gymnasts, the physical demands expected of athletes 20 years ago are not the same as today.

“Gymnastics has always been somewhat dangerous," he said. "[Gravitational] forces are getting higher and higher as athletes are getting stronger and stronger.”

In the case of gymnast Said, Koh said his landing used a lot of force and that resulted in an awkward landing. The recovery process may take some time to heal with options of a surgery, a titanium rod and crutches.

For a cyclist, the recovery time of a collarbone fracture is less downtime but could result in stabilizing titanium plates for a few weeks.

Specialists watch closely to ensure that athletes are in top shape without over training and remain optimistic that the athletes will use best practices to avoid future injuries.

Good coaching, safe health practices and paying close attention to what the body is saying are the biggest takeaways for athletes, Koh said.

“People always loved watching [others] doing athletic feats, but I think that it is always critical to understand that there is a lot of trainings and practice to get to that point.”

Contact Us