These 7 Common Gymnastics Injuries Pose Some Serious Obstacles For Olympians
The story of France's Samir Ait Said's Olympics is pretty much the opposite of Simone Biles', in so far as he didn't have the chance to medal due to a serious injury. He also headed to Rio to support his team and win gold for his country — but then the worst happened. He was competing on the vault at the men's team qualification when he landed and his leg snapped. And with that, his Olympic performance ended. Unfortunately, he's not alone either — over the years many Olympians have been taken down by injury. These seven common gymnastics injuries can end — or at least press pause on — an athlete's gold medal aspirations.
USA Today reported that the sound of the break could be heard all over the gym. Sam Mikulak, one of the American gymnasts who was about to compete on the bars explained what this would feel like to TIME:
It's always a shame when there's an injury in this sport. Especially when you're here at the Olympic Games, to go down like that — it's a horrible, horrible thing but you have to stay focused, get in the zone and do the gymnastics you came out here to do.
Not all of them, however, are as serious as Ait Said's broken leg. So, what injuries are the most common? This list, compiled with information from a team of physical therapists and Drs. Grant Jones and Brian Wolf explains just what kind of stressors the average gymnast wants to avoid at all costs.
1) Wrist & Ankle Sprains
One of the most dramatic moments in Olympics gymnastics history for team USA was in 1996 at the Atlanta Olympics. Kerri Strug sprained her ankle — a third-degree lateral ankle sprain to be precise — but vaulted anyway to ensure the team would win the gold. Remarkably, she did indeed lead her team to a gold medal victory, but went straight to the hospital after the medal ceremony.
2) ACL Injuries
The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is one of the four ligaments within the knee that connects two of your leg bones together, the femur to the tibia. Injuries to the ACL can put the breaks on any athlete. John Orozco, an American gymnast who competed in London injured his ACL twice, with the second time keeping him on the sidelines on Rio. Then at the Games, a German gymnast Andreas Toba amazingly competed on the pommel horse with a torn ACL to ensure that Germany would qualify this year.
3) Achilles Tendonitis
Orozco has also suffered from Achilles tendon problems. Achilles tendonitis is just a fancy way to name an injury to the tendon that connects your calf to your heel. Orozco's was extremely serious — his Achilles tendon snapped in 2015. But thankfully, he recovered just in time to injure his ACL. Another American gymnast named Nia Dennis ruptured hers in February, keeping her off the Olympics team too.
4) Herniated Disks
Scott Keswick, one of the top American gymnasts in the 1990s, was on the team in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. But in 1995, he suffered a herniated disk after he fell from the high bar. Doctors told him it would end his career, but he had surgery and returned to training; unfortunately, he did not make it to another Olympics.
5) Lower-Back Injuries
Lower-back injuries for Olympic gymnasts are extremely serious — serious enough, in fact, to sideline them from whole events. One of the alternates for the women's team, Ashton Locklear, for example, only competes in the uneven bars and the balance beam because of lower-back injuries.
6) Labral Tears
Another injured member of Team USA's men's squad in 2012 was Jake Dalton. He was nearly kept out of Rio by a partially torn labrum. (That's the cartilage in the shoulder that helps hold your arm in the socket.) In the end he had surgery and recovered, and ended up placing sixth in the floor exercise.
7) Stress Fractures
Back in 2012, Jordyn Wieber competed with a stress fracture at the London Games. She put a boot on right after competition ended. She never had a medical exam, and her coach, John Geddert, said it wouldn't have mattered. "It's the Olympic Games," he told the Associated Press. "It would have taken wild horses to drag her out of here." She did win a team gold medal, so maybe it was worth it.