Zam­boni driv­ers wear hel­mets. Why don’t fig­ure skaters?

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - SCOTT RADLEY Hel­mets

Elvis Sto­jko is a seven-time Cana­dian cham­pion, a three-time world cham­pion, a two-time Olympic sil­ver medal­list and one of the great­est fig­ure skaters ever. He au­thored a se­ries of firsts in­volv­ing quadru­ple jumps — four full turns in the air — and is as sure on his blades as any­one on the planet.

Yet to­day he’s re­cov­er­ing from a head in­jury af­ter fall­ing and whack­ing his head on the ice dur­ing a show in Hamil­ton. He took a spill that was nasty enough he had to stay overnight in hospi­tal.

So this seems like an apt time to won­der why hockey coaches stand­ing against the boards dur­ing prac­tice must wear a hel­met for pro­tec­tion, yet young skaters learn­ing com­plex and dif­fi­cult jumps are ex­empt from such pro­tec­tion? And why our Zam­boni driv­ers have to wear a hel­met for safety while our youth­ful skaters can prac­tise lifts and spins with bare heads?

“I’ve of­ten thought the same thing,” says Dr. David Robin­son, who reg­u­larly treats con­cus­sions at the David Bra­ley Sport Medicine and Rehabilitation Cen­tre at McMaster.

Ei­ther hockey or­ga­ni­za­tions and the city are be­ing a way too over­cau­tious, or fig­ure skat­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions are be­ing way too un­der cau­tious. The truth is, it’s both.

Ear­lier this year, one of the top fig­ure skaters in the U.S. talked about the mas­sive im­pact a se­ries of con­cus­sions had on her. Ash­ley Wag­ner told The Mer­cury News in San Jose about hor­ri­ble headaches and an in­abil­ity to speak clearly af­ter hit­ting her head on the ice sev­eral times as a younger com­peti­tor.

A cou­ple years ago, Olympic gold-medal­list Evan Lysacek said he had had be­tween 15 and 20 con­cus­sions in his ca­reer re­sult­ing from crashes.

“I’ve seen some gnarly falls like where a girl gets dropped out of mid-air and just like their teeth pop out and split chins, split cheek, crazy stuff,” he told TMZ Sports.

Rus­sian star Ta­tiana Tot­man­ina once suf­fered a con­cus­sion when she was dropped on her face by part­ner Maxim Marinin.

Olga Prokuronova fell on her head when Karel Stefl lost his grip on her.

A while back, a com­peti­tor in the na­tional syn­chro­nized skat­ing cham­pi­onships at then-Copps Coli­seum had to be stretchered off the ice af­ter a stum­ble.

Back in 1999, Amer­i­can star Paul Bin­ne­bose nearly died af­ter fall­ing and slam­ming his head on the ice in a train­ing ses­sion.

He suf­fered a frac­tured skull and brain bleed­ing which has left him with fa­cial paral­y­sis.

He wears the marks of that in­ci­dent to this day.

We could go on. The list of fright­en­ing in­ci­dents is long.

Skate Canada has a pol­icy in place that re­quires hel­mets for any­one “who lacks good con­trol/bal­ance when skat­ing for­ward, back­ward and has dif­fi­culty stop­ping, as well as ma­noeu­vring around ob­sta­cles on the ice.” It’s a start. But a rule re­quir­ing head pro­tec­tion only for those learn­ing the ba­sics of skat­ing seems woe­fully in­com­plete.

Re­mem­ber, all the ex­am­ples just men­tioned in­volve some of the best skaters in the world. If the elite of the elite can still wipe out and suf­fer ter­ri­ble in­juries, how much more con­cerned should we be for younger, less-pro­fi­cient skaters?

Yet those in the sport still don’t wear them or de­mand they’re worn be­cause, well, there is no good an­swer.

Es­thet­ics? Per­haps, though it’s hard to imag­ine any skater looks more ap­peal­ing with blood gush­ing from his or her head. A hel­met is un­com­fort­able? Same an­swer.

A hel­met would af­fect bal­ance? Skaters are al­ready fall­ing. That’s why they need one. The cost? Sure, a hel­met costs a few bucks. That’s still a lower price in the big pic­ture than a se­vere brain in­jury.

Dr. Robin­son is at rinks reg­u­larly and says he’s never once seen a young fig­ure skater wear­ing a hel­met. So when they ar­rive in his clinic for treat­ment, he asks why they don’t. “I usu­ally say, ‘Why don’t you be the first fig­ure skater with a hel­met on?’” he says. Their re­sponse? “They usu­ally laugh.” That’s not the right an­swer.

sradley@thes­pec.com 905-526-2440 | @radley­atthes­pec Spec­ta­tor colum­nist Scott Radley hosts The Scott Radley Show week­nights 7-9 on 900CHML.

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