Sport and concussion: anecdotes, research and action

Yesterday’s Tour de France stage saw one rider abandon with concussion (only after other riders complained he was a danger to them) and another ride to the finish after having fairly obvious concussive symptoms. Many sports have had issues with traumatic brain injury (TBI), and have had to issue increasingly detailed guidance on how to identify TBI, and what to do. Rugby Union, for example, provides a range of guidance to officials to ensure that players with suspected TBI are not permitted to continue. It was reassuring to see one team doctor, Prentice Steffen, of Garmin Cervelo, looking for the same thing in cycling, prompted partly by Julian Dean’s experience after crashing in this year’s Volta a Catalunya.

Both my father and his best friend played contact sports. Both had experiences where they played on through concussion. Both had neurological problems in their sixties. Of course, these problems might have occurred anyway, but the link between moderate to severe TBI and later onset neurological disorders is well-founded.

Watching someone being encouraged to continue to compete after clear signs of TBI disgusts me, and this is what it looked like happened yesterday in the case of Chris Horner (whether such encouragement was implict or explicit). What on earth are medical professionals thinking when they permit such nonsense? Not only do they risk further crashes or exacerbating an original injury, they show how basic medical sense is being overruled by sporting motives. Of course, we can all miss the signs of concussion, but that is why clear guidance is necessary from the top down, and needs to be applied consistently.

Cycle racing and the perfect crime

I just read a wonderful blog entry from Cycling Inquisition on the appropriation of nationality and the hyper-real manner in which fans of cycling willingly give up their grip on reality in favour of the fantastic (or not-real). I was foolishly inspired to write something on how we have lost the ability to distinguish the real from not-real in judgments of sporting performance.

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Percy Stallard and Beryl Burton: bikes to remember them by

I am off the bike at the moment due to post-viral syndrome: hence, by car, a visit to the 10th Annual Classic Bike Display, in Shelf, West Yorks today. The show was put on by the Bygone Bykes Club, and included a short ride (not for me, sadly) on period bikes, around the British League of Racing Cyclists’ ‘Beacon Grand Prix’ circuit.

The centrepiece was a lovely Percy Stallard mass start road bike:

Percy Stallard massed start road bike

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Something for Contador from the 1930s

There have been many vegetarian (and vegan) cyclists. I am not one of them, although I have been severely dropped by one (thanks, Tim) and they have organisation. In my other life I have been fascinated by the history of empirical psychology, and have found many examples where recent research papers cover ground forgotten (the extraordinary empirical work of Roger Barker comes to mind).

I was entertained to find a beautifully controlled study from the 30s by George Macfeat Wishart (in The Journal of Physiology) which looked at cycling performance under a number of different vegetarian diets. It turned out that animal protein helps, but not because it is better per se, just because it is easier to consume in the quantities required. Doing a quick cost-benefit analysis might make one feel the advantages of steak consumption are outweighed by the disadvantages of accidental contamination with growth hormones. Or not…

Zabriskie, anyone…