This week was full of sports activities, testing the best young Chinese speed skaters and testing a young, very talented race car pilot, two TV-activities: an interview and a talk show about sprinters Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay, and working with my colleague and good friend Fergus Connolly on a book, making the chapters and the content.
Last year I saw a Swedish documentary on TV here in Holland called “The Price of Gold”, about the injuries of the generation of Swedish world class athletes like Carolina Kluft, Susanna Kallur, Stefan Holm, and Christian Olsson.
Peter Ingleton made me aware of this film again and I advise you to see it.
For me, it showed a few important issues in elite sports:
1. Injuries are the main factor in not reaching your full potential as an athlete. The career of many gifted athletes is stopped, limited or seriously affected by injuries. Consulting with high level coaches they almost always accept injuries as “part of the game”, but I always reply: “they might be part of your game , they are certainly not part of my game….and I like to keep it that way, as it makes my job easier. The athlete the most easy to beat in competition is the one who isn’t there due to injuries”.
During my career as a coach none of my athletes had to undergo surgery, yes they sometimes had surgery before they came and train with me, (Mary Onyali – foot surgery) or had existing injuries. The career of another athlete I coached, Nelli Cooman, ended when she went to the supermarket and was hit by a supermarket trolley in her Achilles tendon.
I always have been very aware of the health of my athletes, mainly because as a rather naive 400 meter runner I tore my Achilles tendon due to chronic overload and promised myself that my athletes would never have to go through the same pain of the rupture, the surgery, the rehabilitation and coming back after 1 year. Since then I also decided to take full control myself and I ran my personal bests in the 100 meters 10.5 and 400 meter 47.4 after the Achilles tendon rupture.
2. A lot of effort and resources are spend globally to prevent athletes from taking doping, one of the reasons being the idea of protecting the health of the athlete. This film puts this into another perspective. Surgeries, anaesthesia, chronic use of pain killers for training, acute use of pain killing injections in order to compete. Health, who cares? Nothing affects the health of the athlete in a negative way more than bad training. I do not go into the issue of who paid/pays the expensive hospital bills, or the bills of rehabilitation for the athletes. But I guess some orthopaedic surgeons made more money out of one athlete’s career than the athlete him/herself.
3. The willingness of the athletes to consciously take the risk of injuries, and bear the consequences, because they also came to believe it is “part of the game”. And it displays the tremendous drive of athletes to reach their goals, the incredible feeling of being in top shape, the unity of body and mind and total control of your body.
4. The tendency of coaches to keep believing in their training concepts even if the results are clear and dramatic. An interesting example was the coach of Carolina Kluft and Susanna Kallur who had four athletes with the same serious injury. I would think, a reason to seriously reconsider your approach to training. He stated that in order to become a good athlete you have to have a short contact time (reversing cause and result!). And you have to hit the ground actively. Also you have to be explosive (no denying), but how many hurdles do you need to jump to increase explosiveness, where is the optimal window between effect and risk of injuries? At that highest level of performance all athletes basically have the same contact time! Why do some athletes get injured whereas others do not? Bad luck or pushing the envelope too far and not learning from it? Or lacking the will to look for alternative training methods and means. The athlete and coach suffer from myopia, because there are also athletes in the same event who have a long career without so many injuries. Looking at alternatives would imply you are doing something wrong, a fact that seems to be hard to digest.Video: The Price of Gold: http://vimeo.com/51345348