Junior skater Conrad Orzel left a lasting impression on the crowd at the Canadian National Skating Championships this week when he crashed to the ice with such impact that the spectators gasped.
He was the only junior man attempting a triple Axel in the long program, and he slammed his left shoulder onto the ice as he fell. The left side of his head followed.
As skaters are trained to do, Orzel leaped to his feet and continued, falling on the next jump, but then landing a brilliant triple Axel combination. When he got off the ice, he was treated with a piece of gauze on the wound, and a bag of ice. A medical team that examined him afterward deemed that he did not have a concussion. Orzel reported no headache, but a large bump. Fortunately, his left brow took impact, rather than the side of his head.
Orzel’s astonishing accident is not an isolated incident in figure skating, although it is still uncommon, according to Skate Canada director of high performance Michael Slipchuk. Because of an incident last season, in which Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and Chinese skater Han Yan collided during a Grand Prix event warmup, Skate Canada decided to implement a concussion policy this season, he said.
Hanyu competed anyway and fell five times.
“We had to develop a protocol and a process to protect the athletes and to protect us,” Slipchuk said. “To stop athletes from competing, that’s a big decision to make. We wanted something concrete.” The policy included input from medical people that travel with the team.
“The lifts and elements they try to do are very difficult, so the risk of injury is higher than it was before,” Slipchuk said.
Skate Canada has a policy that youngsters learning to skate must wear a helmet to get onto the ice. They must wear CSA approved hockey helmets, designed for falls on the ice.
But there is no such policy for older skaters. Skaters have worn helmets in the past after injury – Shae-Lynn Bourne suffered a head injury during a practice fall when she was a junior skater and pair skater Doug Ladret fractured his skull while skating. Bourne wore a helmet during practice. Ladret wore a helmet part way through a competition.
Last fall, Canadian ice dancer Alexandra Paul suffered a concussion during a practice fall. She and partner Mitchell Islam were doing a lift, but it started going wrong, and Paul fell back onto her partner, hitting her head against his.
Islam’s head was fine, but Paul’s head snapped backward in a whiplash motion. Her neck was really sore and “my head was all foggy,” she said. She missed training for a week and a half, and didn’t feel comfortable doing certain elements, such as spins and twizzles, which are travelling rotations. The team was forced to withdraw from their second Grand Prix event.
Strangely enough, Paul and Islam were training in Montreal with the world ice dancing champions, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France. Papadakis suffered a severe concussion last summer and the couple missed the entire first half of the season.
Papadakis gave Paul pointers on how to manage her injury, but Paul’s symptoms included headaches, while Papadakis suffered from vertigo. The French team has finally been cleared to return to the ice and have won their national title. Paul and Islam are competing this week in Halifax.
Islam has endured a couple of concussions as well. “It’s hard,” he said. “The symptoms come and go and you’re not sure if you are creating the symptoms in your head.”