Figure skating injuries high price to pay

Five skaters have pulled out of this weekend's NHK Trophy due to injury. It shouldn't come as a total surprise in a sport that combines ice, blades and falls, writes Pj Kwong.

Injuries not uncommon for skaters competing at the highest levels

Injuries can happen anywhere.

For skaters competing at the highest level, the physical consequences of injuries are a given and the upshot is often missed competitive opportunities. In this weekend's NHK Grand Prix, OIympic champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, American Jason Brown, and Canadian ice dancers Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam will all be sitting out to recover.

It's a high price to pay.

We all believe, at least in theory, that figure skating is a non-contact sport. In practice, blades and ice together can make the contact unavoidable.

Earlier this season, the 2015 Cup of China event marked the first anniversary of a serious on-ice collision during warm-up between Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and Chinese champion Han Yan. Both skaters made the controversial decision to skate their free programs despite worries of possible serious injuries and concussions.

For single skaters, the more serious injuries typically come from collisions on the ice. With skaters so focused on getting elements done during warm-up, their breakneck speed and lack of awareness of each other's skating patterns can have disastrous consequences.​

At 1991 worlds, Japan's Midori Ito, the 1989 world champion, collided with France's Laeticia Hubert during warm-up. If that weren't bad enough, she then fell into the camera pit in the corner of the rink on a jump landing.

With intricate footwork and fast rotational lifts, ice dancers are at risk for accidents from tangled feet or slipped grip.

At the 2006 Olympic Games, Canada's Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon lost control during the original dance segment. They did not finish the competition.

During the 2007 Skate Canada warm-up before the free dance, Americans Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov lost control during a fast rotational lift.

Perhaps the most dramatic on-ice incidents take place during the pair events. The elements are high-risk and high-speed, and a skater's life can change forever in a split second.

Hairline fracture, internal hemorrhaging

Debbi Wilkes was one half of the Canadian pair that won silver at the 1964 Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria.  A year earlier, at the world championships in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, Wilkes and partner Guy Revell were doing a lift during a pre-event photo shoot on a small piece of natural outdoor ice.

"He fell backwards during our lift and I was draped over his hand fully extended and above his head," Wilkes said.

"There was nothing I could do to save myself and I landed on my head. I remember waking up briefly in a heap on the ice and people were crowded around me. I was taken to the little local hospital that was used to dealing with skiers' broken legs but nothing really like this. They thought I was just concussed, but then, overnight, I hemorrhaged internally in the hospital and the next day half of my face was paralyzed.

"At that point, the Canadian team sent me home where it was discovered I had suffered a hairline fracture that went down the left side of my head and over my ear."

Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin, of Russia, the 2006 Olympic pair champions, fell on a lift during their free skate at Skate America in 2004. 

In a gruesome accident during their 2007 Four Continents free program, Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison lost their unison during a side-by-side spin element. Davison's blade sliced Dube's cheek just below the eye. (At the 2:40 mark)