U.S. figure skater Evan Lysacek skated to an Olympic figure skating gold medal, the first Olympic gold medal in over 20 years for a U.S. male figure skater. Aside from the usual physical and emotional stress associated with such an important event, Lysacek was also dealing with an entirely different kind of stress…a stress fracture of his foot. As you can imagine, any type of foot injury can be devastating to an ice skater, particularly on as severe as a fracture. However, despite the injury, Lysacek was able to work around it and skated to an almost flawless performance to capture the gold!
Stress fractures are small fractures that appear as tiny “cracks” and are sometimes difficult to detect on x-ray. They are most frequently caused by poor biomechanics or foot function, but can also be caused by repetitive trauma such as that sustained in a typical figure skating jump. Left untreated, they can progress into fully blown fractures which, in some cases, can require surgery to repair. In Lysacek’s case, he had been injured prior to the U.S. Championships and treated it conservatively with a walking boot and rest which allowed him to make a full recovery. In most cases, this is the only treatment that is necessary; however, it can be a difficult treatment to follow for athletes since they need to train, especially when preparing for the Olympics.
Once healed, he was able to perform at full strength and executed a quadruple jump, one of the most difficult jumps in figure skating which only a few competitors in the world are able to execute with precision. However, following the competition, he began to experience the same type of foot pain that had originally led him to wear the walking boot. Recognizing the signs of a stress fracture, he wisely opted not to do the quadruple jump in the Olympics to reduce stress to his foot. This created added pressure on him since it forced him into a position where every other element in his routine had to be flawless to make up for the reduction in the degree of difficulty of his program.
This decision was later criticized by the silver medalist following the competition who bitterly complained that Lysacek did not deserve to win the gold because he did not attempt a quadruple jump. However, had he decided not to limit his performance, he may have been injured to the point where he would have had to withdraw from the Olympics and possibly risk jeopardizing the rest of his career.
Whether you are an Olympic athlete or just looking to stay fit through exercise, it is important to treat your foot pain as soon as it starts to prevent more serious injuries that can occur later if left untreated. In this case, it proved to be a smart move for Evan Lysacek as ignoring his foot injury could have cost him the gold, and more importantly, his career.