Jan 29, 2015
Gold Medal Coverage

By Kyle Garratt

Like their peers in more traditional sports, winter athletes who take to the snow and ice for the X Games and Winter Olympics are backed by a strong network of athletic trainers working behind the scenes to keep them safe. Here is a look at who and what is keeping these cold-weather athletes healthy as they enter their competitive seasons.


Unconventional sports still produce conventional injuries. So when the X Games took over Aspen Mountain in Colorado early this year, Susan McGowen took a short break from her duties as head of the Department of Physical Performance and Development in the University of New Mexico College of Education to serve as Director of Sports Medicine for ESPN–a second position she’s held since 1995.

“These athletes are professionals,” McGowen told the Campus News. “They are the best of the best. We took care of 77 injuries, but only two broken bones and a few knee sprains. We had an assortment of strains, contusions and a few minor concussions.”

McGowen oversaw a 20-member medical team during the Games and brought along four students to help cover the 280 competitors. Her time there was not without scary moments. Arguably the biggest star at the X Games, snowboarder Shaun White took a halfpipe to the face while practicing his most difficult trick. McGowen’s staff examined White after his run and again at the top of the halfpipe before determining he showed no signs of a concussion and cleared him to compete.

The defending Olympic halfpipe champion did just that and took gold. Not everyone was as excited as White was, however.

“If it was true he was seen by medical staff, and after a few minutes was allowed to go back, I’d have to roll my eyes a little bit and wonder what kind of assessment they did,” Robert Cantu, MD, Co-Director of the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, told the Associated Press.

McGowen was adamant she and her staff acted correctly. “Everything we do is about appropriate and optimal health care for the athletes,” McGowen told the Associated Press. “I’ll call out the Army if I think that athlete should not compete again.”

Food for Thought

The correct competition diet can help winter athletes not have to receive treatment from McGowen. Several X Gamers dished about their meal plans.

“As you might imagine, if you work out like a horse, you end up eating like one in order to perform at your peak,” Skier X racer Biche Rudigoz told ESPN.com. “I take in several thousand calories a day of the human equivalent of highly organic hay.”

Canadians to the Rescue

A group of 92 Canadian physiotherapists, a majority of which are members of Sport Physiotherapy Canada, a division of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association, will treat athletes at the Olympic Games this year. Some of the physiotherapists will strictly treat the Canadian competitors, while the rest will treat athletes from all countries.

“Not all of the participating countries are able to send their own physiotherapists. As the providers of host medical and therapy coverage for the Games, it is our job to make sure all competitors get the care they need,” Rick Celebrini, Chief Therapist and Regional Medical Manager for the Vancouver Organizing Committee Medical Services and Therapy Team, said in a press release. “The international athletes will be well taken care of by a highly trained and very competent contingent of Canadian sport physiotherapists recognized around the world for their skills and integrated as part of the multidisciplinary host medical and therapy team.”

Getting Tested

Not all the medical experts heading to the Olympics are treating athletes. Someone has to play the role of police. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is sending 20 testers to Vancouver to help the Canadian staff test athletes for performance-enhancing drugs.

“This is probably the most intensive testing ever done at a Olympics,” Dr. Monica Spaulding, a professor of medicine at the University at Buffalo, told The Buffalo News.

Kyle Garratt is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning.

Shop see all »

75 Applewood Drive, Suite A
P.O. Box 128
Sparta, MI 49345
website development by deyo designs
Interested in receiving the print or digital edition of Training & Conditioning?

Subscribe Today »

Be sure to check out our sister sites: