Zamboni drivers wear helmets. Why don’t figure skaters?
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.
firstname.lastname@example.org 905-526-2440 | @radleyatthespec Spectator columnist Scott Radley hosts The Scott Radley Show weeknights 7-9 on 900CHML.