Figure skating expert Hannah Robbins argues that the long-term consequences of top skaters performing injured are not worth the short-term rewards.
Yuzuru Hanyu. Shoma Uno. Evgenia Medvedeva. Three world champion figure skaters who have skated injured in the past year. Instead of taking the time to rest their bodies and heal, they continued to compete, citing the importance of the competition and not letting fans down as reasons. Their risk has not led to punishment — but that time might soon come. Both Hanyu and Medvedeva have had to withdraw from competitions to recuperate from injuries they’ve skated on, and this doesn’t even consider the long-term implications of their choice to skate injured.
For Hanyu, skating injured isn’t a one-time occurrence. After a scary fall before the 2017 NHK Trophy where he ended up landing in the splits after a quadruple jump, Hanyu tried to compete before ultimately opting against it.
He sat out the NHK Trophy, then the Grand Prix Final and finally Japanese Nationals before winning a second gold in the Olympics. If this were the end of the story, it wouldn’t mean much. But then it happened again.
In 2018, a nearly identical story played out. Instead of sitting out the NHK after re-injuring his ankle, he decided to pop a few painkillers and continue on, with the same results: a missed Grand Prix Final and a missed Japanese Nationals.
Would this have been avoided if he hadn’t skated on his injured ankle in 2018 or hadn’t started prepping for the Olympics before he was fully healed? We can only speculate, but it could not have harmed him.
Medvedeva had a similar situation. At the Rostelecom Cup in 2017, she fell on a simple jump: a double axel. Before that, her first fall in competition in a season, she had cracked a bone in her foot but continued to compete because the Olympics were that year.
That fall led to her withdrawing from the Grand Prix Final and ending up in a boot, which sidelined her from Russian Nationals. During the Olympics, Medvedeva was still skating in pain.
After her silver medal, she had to take a few months off jumping, finding herself incapable of competing in the 2018 Worlds and performing exhibitions without any jumps, as doctors disclosed that Medvedeva would need to have surgery if she didn’t take it easy.
Medvedeva tried to ease up, but continued to perform in ice shows during the offseason, and this might explain her struggle this year to recover; she earned her first off-podium finish in her senior career.
Uno is an interesting case. Over the past three months, he has injured his right ankle several times. Before Japanese Nationals this season, he injured his ankle and won the competition despite it. After Nationals, he took 10 days off before resuming training, but he injured his ankle again before the Four Continents Championship this month. Uno won, but once again, he was skating injured.
Will Uno have the same end result as Medvedeva and Hanyu — taking time off skating because they continued to skate on injuries? Yes, in the short term, this seems to be beneficial since they won competitions. Is it conducive to their long term success in the sport or taking care of their body in general?
In most sports, athletes grin and bear it through the pain, but with the immense pressure that skaters put on their bodies normally, injuries can make it even more dangerous.
Putting seven to 10 times the weight of their body on an injured leg during a jump can only further harm the skater and lead to a longer time recovering, if skaters do at all. This begs the question: is it worth it to skate injured? With Hanyu and Medvedeva in mind, the short term rewards don’t seem to outweigh the long term harms.