The injury report is one of the most common lists in American sports. Folks are listed every day as doubtful with a strained hamstring or questionable with tendinitis. Sports medicine has taught us to dread letters in certain combinations, like ACL and UCL, and kept Tommy John's name in the lexicon well after the end of his baseball playing career.
Normally, a tear in one of those ligaments denoted by an acronym spells the end of a season. But what to do when your next season is four (or in this case, three) years away?
Gymnast Artur Dalaloyan, representing the Russian Olympic Committee (more on that in another column), is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. Being that the Achilles basically connects one's foot to the rest of the muscles in the leg, it's a pretty serious injury for athletes who want to run and jump. Kevin Durant tore his Achilles in the 2019 NBA Finals and sat out the entire 2020 NBA season.
Dalaloyan tore his Achilles in April. April of 2021. But there he was on Saturday, qualifying for the men's all-around final, even though events like the vault and floor exercise feature the kinds of running, jumping and landing that makes people with fully intact tendons cringe. If there's anything we've learned from 2020, it's that you can't expect another chance.
Being that they're in Tokyo, maybe it was the spirit of Shun Fujimoto. Fujimoto was competing for Japan in the 1976 Montreal Games and broke his leg near the knee at the end of his floor exercise routine. However, there were still several rotations to go, and his team was defending a winning streak in the event dating back to 1960 against the Soviet team.
Fujimoto was able to get through pommel horse without terrible difficulty and earned a 9.5. But the next event was the rings, which are suspended 8 feet above the floor. He landed, on his feet, immediately dislocating his knee. According to an account in "The Complete Book of the Olympics" by David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky, Fujimoto said "My whole blood was boiling at my stomach."
At this point the doctors stepped in and ended Fujimoto's participation on his behalf. Japan won, by the way. When asked if he would do it again, Fujimoto tersely replied, "No."
Of course, the ballad of Kerri Strug fits into this topic. The U.S. women of 1996 needed just one more good vault to land on Wheaties boxes for the end of time, but Dominique Moceanu fell on both of her attempts, and Strug landed short and on her backside on her first attempt. Worse, she had clearly injured her left leg.
A look at the math demonstrates that the Russian team would have needed a near-impossible score in its last event to snatch the gold. U.S. coach and gymnastics Svengali Bela Karolyi convinced Strug she needed to continue, leading to a picture that is permanently etched into American sports lore: Strug landing her vault on one foot in severe pain. Besides the physical toll, which Strug told Runner's World magazine in 1999 is "just part of my life now," a trained look at the video can easily find infamous sex offender and U.S. gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar as one of the first to treat Strug's sprained ankle and two torn ligaments.
In 1992, Canadian rower Silken Laumann was a heavy favorite in the single sculls, but less than three months before the Barcelona Games, her boat was rammed in the warm-up area by a two-man German craft. A piece of wood ripped through Laumann's right leg, causing extensive nerve and tissue damage.
After five operations, Laumann made it to Spain, with a cane and directions not to stand for more than 15 minutes at a time. She won her semifinal race and came from behind to win an inspiring bronze medal.
In 1936, Lt. Konrad von Wangenheim of Germany had a rough week in the three-day team equestrian event. During the cross-country portion, his horse, Kurfurst, tripped at an obstacle and threw him off, leading to a broken collarbone, but he went on so as to avoid disqualification.
The next day, he showed up in a sling and competed with the injured arm tightly wrapped, but his horse reared up at an obstacle and landed on top of him. Somehow, he managed to crawl out from under the horse, and both parties dusted themselves off and finished as Germany won the gold medal.
Hungarian Karoly Takacs was a member of a world championship shooting team in 1938 when, while on duty, a grenade exploded in his right (shooting) hand and shattered it. Ten years later, Takacs showed up in London for the first post-war Games and, while shooting with his left hand, set a world record and won the first of two consecutive gold medals in the rapid-fire pistol event.
None of these stories make Dalaloyan's decision to compete on a barely-healed Achilles tendon medically advisable, but it's not as unusual as you think.
Brandon Veale is presentation editor of the News Tribune, a former sports editor and forever Olympics enthusiast.