The higher they jump, the higher the risk.

Skaters, like the ones who vied for an Olympic berth this weekend at the National Skating Championships in Ottawa, endure their fair share of bumps and bruises while they test the limits.

“Injuries have become more (frequent) today than my day,” said former Olympic silver medalist and Ottawa native, Elizabeth Manley. “(There’s more) pushing the envelope, especially in female skating, young girls pushing triples.”

Debbie Wilkes, former Olympic skating medallist

Debbie Wilkes won an Olympic silver at the end of her career before a bad fall forced to call it quits. (CBC)

Analyst and former Olympic silver medallist, Debbie Wilkes, knows the risks well.

After reaching the podium in pairs skating in the 1964 Winter Games, Wilkes experienced disaster in the world championships that followed.

“I fell on my head and fractured my skull,” Wilkes recalled, adding the fall ended her skating career.

Spinning adds to concussion danger

In men’s skating, the quad is the norm. Canadian champion and gold-medal hopeful Patrick Chan knows he won’t win gold without landing at least one quad.

It’s a far stretch from when Barbara Ann Scott won gold at the 1948 Olympics with a single Salchow.

Dr. David Wang said those repeated spins are also a danger, can cause concussions and accentuate concussion symptoms.

“We’ve measured these forces. They are significant,” said Wang, who heads Elite Sports Medicine at the Connecticut Children's Medical Centre.

“When you compare the amount of time that (skaters) are subjected to these forces, it does make you wonder if it’s significant. And in some cases, these people have headache problems, balance problems, and it continues,” he added.

All about practice

Manley, who now coaches skating, says young skaters wear helmets when they’re just starting out.


Canadian gold-medal hopeful Patrick Chan completes one of his many acrobatic moves during a performance last year. Chan's quad is what makes him a medal hopeful in Sochi.

But once competitive, the helmets are tossed aside, so she focuses on repetition.

“It’s important for me as a coach (to practice). They are only doing a small amount (of jumps) per session … they're still growing and need to develop into these jumps,” she said.

Currently, there is no plan in the works to add protection for skaters.

Former athletes like Manley, Wilkes and Elvis Stojko say training can limit the chance of getting hurt on the ice.

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