Faculty of Kinesiology researcher Winne Meeuwisse is in London for the 2012 Summer Games working for the International Olympic Committee's medical injury surveillance group. Don McSwiney, the faculty's director of communications, had a conversation with Meeuwisse before the Games.
Don McSwiney: The IOC recently named the University of Calgary Sports Injury Prevention Research Centre as one of four worldwide centres tasked with Olympic injury prevention research. Will your work at the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games tie into this?
Winne Meeuwisse: Well, we have a network of four research centres and we do look at collaborative initiatives. But each of the groups also has expertise in areas they’re particularly strong. My own expertise is in the area of injury surveillance – looking at injury patterns to look for patterns that would be either markers for risk, and therefore you could target for prevention. That was kind of the genesis of our University of Calgary Sports Injury Prevention Centre. So I was asked by the IOC to be a part of their injury surveillance at the games – and that is something that is actually evolving.
DMcS: It seems like injury prevention is a growing concern for the IOC.
WM: With the IOC, with Jacques Rogue as their president, they really have made a priority around a phrase they’ve coined, “Prevention of injury and protection of the athlete’s health.” That’s why the medical sciences department has grown, and why they want to have a network of injury prevention research centres. Actually, injury surveillance of the Games is fairly new. Beijing was the first Games where they measured injuries in all venues and countries, Vancouver was the first games where they measured injuries and illnesses, and this will be the first Summer Games where they are measuring injuries and illnesses in all venues and all sports. It’s becoming more comprehensive and it’s an evolution that has taken place over the last few Olympic cycles.
DMcS: What will you actually be doing at the Games?
WM: Looking at the distribution and determinants of injuries. In layman’s terms, the patterns of injuries and the causes. I mean, if you find a pattern you say, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ But if you can get at the causes, if you can determine that an injury is happening because of X,Y,Z, then you can actually do something about it. However, if you do understand the patterns of injury, one place that it’s very helpful is in the planning of medical resources. In the context of the Games, if they understand the patterns and numbers of injuries, they can better plan for emergency trauma care. From a research side, however, the more interesting part is figuring out how we can make it safer.
DMcS: Where will you be based there?
WM: In London, I’ll be part of a research team based in the athlete’s village. We collect information, which involves visiting the various countries medical groups and the different venues to collect information, then we collate that centrally.
DMcS: So if an injury occurs, will you be there gathering forensic information?
WM: Not that kind of detail. It’s more that we get information from the countries’ medical teams. There are three different ways that medical care is provided at the Games. Larger countries, like Canada, bring a medical team with them – they’ll set up a medical clinic in the athlete’s area for Canada. Of all the countries at the Games, a little less than half will have their own medical care. The second level of specialized medical care is provided at each venue – there’ll be one for the cycling venue, there’ll be one for swimming, there’ll be one for track and field, etc… and these are run by the London Committee. The third level is the Polyclinic in the athletes’ village that’s almost like a walk-in clinic, acute care centre, also run by the London organizing committee. Let’s say an athlete needs to get a blood test done, or an MRI done, they’ll get it done at the Polyclinic. So what we’re doing with the injury surveillance is we’re collecting very basic information on what was the injury? What sport did it happen in? We don’t collect the athlete’s name, it’s anonymous, but we can look at the patterns and some of the parameters and that information gets collected centrally – which is important, because if an athlete gets seen in more than one place, that information could get recorded in more than one place.
DMcS: Do you do an audit of the venues?
WM: The objective of the injury surveillance isn’t to do an audit of the medical facilities necessarily – that’s done by the London Organizing Committee’s chief medical officer.
DMcS: You’ve worked with the highest levels of sport – is doing an Olympic Games more exciting?
WM: Yeah, it’s fun. The thing that’s fun about working with the more elite levels of sport is that everything is taken to the extreme. People are pushing the limits because they know it’s only going to take a small increment of performance to succeed – to be a medalist. Working with athletes who push it to that level is challenging, and that makes it fun.