Why so many Injuries at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics?

Unfortunately, injuries are a part of major competitions and the Tokyo 2021 Olympics were no anomaly to this, but why would so many injuries occur? These athlete’s have trained so hard to get there and yet have their entire cycle ruined by injury. This is a 3 minute Read.

Dina Asher-Smith, Adam Gemili, Katerina Johnson-Thompson & Morgan Lake. All injured.

Outside of the British squad we saw numerous athletes succumbing to calf and hamstring injuries. We saw the Nigerian sprinters, the Australian Steeple Chaser not to mention what appeared to be a debilitating knee injury to Shaunae Miller-Uibo.

What’s caused all these injuries, Coach?

Obviously, it’s hard to say without having inside access to the athlete’s but there’s a few key points we can look at, to minimise the chance of injury.

Firstly, we must prepare the muscle to deal with loads and extreme forces, that means performing a combination of heavy resistance loads (in the gym or using weighted sleds), maximal sprinting (too many people, especially team sports, avoid sprinting at 100% effort) that means when it comes to racing, the muscle tissue is used to handling such forces. Effective pre-training routine’s are often an area which vary, I have all of my athlete’s performing lots of bouncing, low level plyometrics, to make sure the calf and achilles is ready to go to WORK.

Secondly, what are our running biomechanics like? An improper running gait can result in higher tension in some muscles or exacerbate potential weaknesses. We need to ensure drills are being performed religiously and I would expect this does happen for all track athletes…it’s a part of the sport.

Thirdly, eccentric loads. Eccentric training is when the muscle lengthens, this creates an awful lot of muscular damage (and adaptation). This occurs when decelerating and interestingly, change of direction and decelerating is when a lot of injuries occur, therefore consciously train to improve this, for the hamstrings the Nordic Curl has been shown to directly reduce hamstring injury.

Finally, round up everything above and say have you trained the above enough (stimulus), have you trained it too much (overtraining) have you programmed the training through the season adequately to manage performance and training adaptation and the maintenance of improved performance (periodisation).

With the above steps in place, we can look at specific injuries:

Could it be a result of fatigue or higher than normal loads/forces. The most common phase of the gait a tear happens is during the late swing leg phase and when the hip flexes.

Calves & Achilles
Very often these are the result of something that’s been building for a while.
Have you done enough strength work in the calves? Enough volume, think about how often your calves are used. How mobiles are your ankles? If they are locked or immobile then greater loads will be handled via the achilles and the calf. Are you performing regular bounces and low level plyometrics? Do you have a poor running technique?
A major warning signal for me here would be for a calf / achilles injury to occur on different legs, one after the other. It would suggest a distinct absence of training and prep work for the muscle.

That Knee Taping on Shaunae
Immediately, when I saw her knee taping I was thinking, she has Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (Runner’s Knee). I may be wrong but her description afterwards that she struggled to walk. I know that feeling. It’s like a stabbing pain in the side of the knee. Treated by ice, massage and rest but then rehabbed via improved glute and calf strength, alongside looking at lower body mobility. Very often a particular shoe can really make things worse, is that why she wanted to get her soft trainers immediately after winning Gold?

Concluding Words
During a phone call with legendary speed coach, Jonas Dodoo, he told me that, like many of us coaches, he once used to fear injuries occurring but instead, it’s a natural risk of training intensely enough. As long as the right processes are put in place to negate the risk, then it’s not the coaches fault, it just might happen.

What this means, if you want to make progress, you need to train hard and the risk is injury. Elite athlete’s are carefully balanced on the fence of being superior and being injured. Their training programme throughout the season is needed to account for this. If you do get injured, let’s just look at how to come back stronger, it’s very possible you can.

The impact of the Pandemic on these athlete’s definitely resulted in less access to maximal forces and high level’s of resistance, did that increase their chance of injury?
A lot of athlete’s actually ran more due to the lack of things to do, does that mean more aimless miles than concentrated efforts? Did they actually train too much without the guidance or watchful eye of the coach?
Maybe some of them did train less and thus just suffered from atrophy?

These are all points to consider but all we know is that, those athlete’s are unbelievable. Only they will know what truly happened but they went out there and gave it everything, for our entertainment and their achievement – what a challenge in these circumstances, heroes!

They inspire us all and I can’t wait to see them coming back stronger and stronger.

Next Time we’ll be discussing those RECORDS!

Coach Arj

You might not be striding like Adam Gemili but we can keep your hamstrings in check, so CLICK HERE TO BOOK A CALL WITH YOUR COACH


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