Keeping the show on the ice

Last month’s Winter Olympics were both challenging and unforgettable for the physios supporting Team GB. Matthew Limb talked to some of them

The Vancouver Games, which took place over 17 days last month, will live long in the memory for many, including physiotherapists who played a big part supporting British athletes. Some were stationed beforehand at the holding camp in Calgary, where they helped to prepare athletes before they moved to the Olympic village in Vancouver or Whistler. Those who spoke to Frontline on their return were buzzing with praise for what they described as a fantastic championships, despite Team GB’s disappointing medals tally. Amy Williams was the only Brit to make the podium, winning the women’s bob skeleton event and becoming Britain’s first individual Winter Olympics gold medallist for 30 years. Maggie Bush, of the Sports Scotland Institute of Sport and physiotherapist for the British Olympic Association, was based in Calgary from 24 January before flying to Vancouver as a spectator. She worked with athletes from different sports including ice-dancers and bobsleighers. The preparation went really well, she said, benefiting from first-rate facilities and equipment including spin bikes and gym balls shipped over by the BOA. ‘A couple of athletes fell in training so we had whiplash-type injuries and a couple of hamstring tweaks. One athlete had an irritated lateral knee problem but there wasn’t anything of major concern.’ Many athletes performed impressively despite the dearth of medals, she said. ‘We had a lot of people finishing in the top 10 and a lot of younger athletes who are good prospects.’ She is now looking forward to heading to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in September with Team Scotland. Sue Warwick had a challenging dual role as physio to the figure skating team and its overall team leader. Based in Vancouver for the duration she oversaw seven skaters, including the ice-dance couple John and Sinaed Kerr with whom she has worked for four years. ‘They came eighth, which was fantastic in a very tough field,’ she said. Sue Warwick said a lot of physio work went into injury prevention and ensuring muscles were loose and joints flexible enough to cope with whatever the dance programmes demanded. ‘There is a direct link between physio and performance,’ she said. Her first Olympics were ‘fantastic; bigger and busier than any other games’. She came back to her private practice in Edinburgh but will soon be off to the world skating championships in Turin. A shadow was cast over the Games by the death of luge athlete, the Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili, who crashed in training. Rob Madden, who worked with Maggie Bush in Calgary as physiotherapist to the Team GB snowboard half-pipe team, said: ‘I was having lunch with the bobsleigh team when it came on the TV. There was immense shock.’ He described the event overall as unforgettable, however, with Team GB gelling well together. ‘We had open treatment rooms. It was great to be under one roof, sharing ideas and seeing how people work.’ Snowboarder Ben Kilner, whose goal was to make the Olympic top 20, actually reached the semi-finals finishing 18th, overcoming a ‘couple of knocks and a hematoma’. ‘We were working to keep him as good as we could,’ said Rob Madden, who recalled how anxiety levels among athletes stepped up as the Games approached. ‘You can almost cut the air when you’re that close to the event.’ Rob Madden, a keen snowboarder himself who flew back from Calgary on the day of the opening ceremony, said the event went ‘as well as it could have done’. He hopes to become more involved in summer sports and will be working with the British archery team in the US in the summer. Michael Brownlow, physiotherapist to the speed skating team, supported seven athletes at Calgary and throughout the Games. The athletes did OK – we got two top-six finishes. We were reasonably happy with those results. ‘We had a few niggles, and things that people struggle with, that we worked on. One guy needed an untrasound scan on a tear in one of his muscles, but the facilities out in Vancouver were absolutely top-notch, so we had literally a polyclinic on site, where we could do MRIs, ultrasound, all that kind of stuff. We got some very good diagnostic information to allow us to make any relevant decisions that we needed.’ Mike Brownlow summed up: ‘The event was fantastic, one of those things you can’t experience every day. I loved being out there and being part of Team GB – basically almost representing your country as well. Now we’re hoping to start the second four-year cycle in the run-up to Sochi, Russia in 2014.’
Matthew Limb

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