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The 9 Most Dangerous Olympic Sports

August 5th, 2008 by

Sports and safety have come a long way. Just look at the evolution of gear in American Football. What started out as leather helmets and minimal padding has grown into high grade composite helmets and a veritable suit of armor for the upper torso. That being said, players still get hurt, sometimes badly. Some may claim technology will someday render sports completely safe. But then one may ask, “What’s the point?” Sports are all about pushing performance and physical endurance to the limit. If there’s no physical risk then is it even a sport? As long as sports exist, there will always be some danger. With the Olympics coming up in Beijing, some are more dangerous than others.

Pole Vaulting

Let’s start it off right. Pole Vaulting is THE most dangerous sport in the Olympic Games. Heh, what’s that you say? You don’t believe me? You think this sport is benign? Perhaps it requires exceptional skill, poise, athleticism, and accuracy, but it’s hardly dangerous? “After all’, you might remark, ‘the athlete lands on this big thick pad. Nice and soft, even… FUN?” You probably think you know where I’m going. You probably think I’m going to bring up the chance of missing that big cushy pad and hitting the hard, unforgiving ground. Hardly. So why is it dangerous? Why do I feel comfortable telling you, dear reader, that Pole Vaulting is the most dangerous sport of all time? Simple. This one, single video.




When it comes to American Sports and danger, most bee-line straight for American Football. There’s a couple reasons it’s not on this list. One, it’s not an Olympic sport (so stop whining); the other is the simple fact that basketball sees more injuries than American football. Now, granted, the score is skewed. American Football is definitely more brutal, but this brutality is acknowledged and accounted for. In other words, the players wear armor. They suit up. And because of their equipment they get injured less. In Basketball, while there is considerably less physical contact, when the players do collide they tend to get hurt since neither of them are wearing anything constituting real protection. Not only that , basketball players are actually quite massive. So take two American football players. Stretch them out so they’re the same mass, but about a foot taller. Then, have them collide in mid-air over a solid floor. One, if not both of them, are going to get hurt.




Two words, “Greg Louganis”, one of the greatest Olympic divers of all time. In 1988 the world let out a collective empathetic, “Ow!” Greg dove off the diving board, spun through the air, then smacked the back of his head against the diving board on his way down. He would go on to win the gold anyway. There’s just something intrinsically dangerous about spinning through the air with your head inches away from a large plank. A few years later, an American girl would smack face first into her diving board on the way down. The statistics themselves get interesting when you take into account the small amount of time the athlete is actually performing compared to their chance of getting hurt.


Weight Lifting

The whole point of this sport is to hoist as much weight as you possibly can up into the air over your head. Nope, nothing bad going to happen there… just several hundred pounds of dead weight with the ground below and nothing between except for gravity and a delicate bag of meat, bone, and water that is you! Both lifts performed in the Olympics result in this “weight over head” position. So yes, the head is the first thing the bar is likely to find on it’s way down if it’s dropped. Thankfully, Olympic caliber athletes are usually able to shove the weight away from themselves should anything go wrong. But don’t try this at home, kids.




Little kids have it right. Remember when we were three years old and bicycles had an almost “magic” quality about them? How do they stay up? Big kids, like say, five year olds know that it’s the bicycle’s motion that keeps it upright. As we get older, we begin taking that for granted. Bicycles? Of course they stay upright, why wouldn’t they?! Well… forcefully change a bike’s direction, or just stop it altogether and you’ll discover something else most people take for granted, gravity. 40 mph + asphalt + gravity / wearing little more than spandex = pain. There’s one other element that makes cycling so dangerous and the cause of many injuries at the summer Olympics… the sheer number of people on the road. Crashes in bike races often cause chain reactions, and it can require little more than a nudge to get one started.




Fortunately, when it comes to gymnastics, there’s a lot of padding on the floor. Unfortunately, when it comes to gymnastics, there’s nothing between that padded floor and your face except for momentum and air. This is not hyperbole. In the 1998 Goodwill games, gymnast Sang Lan paralyzed herself during a warm-up routine. Don’t forget that the gymnastics are not only moving fast and risking impact, they’re also dealing with heights that can lead to a serious fall. Cheerleaders like to point out their sport is potentially as dangerous as what’s being played on the field; gymnastics are at the core of that claim. Gymnastics and Basketball constitute a huge number of the injuries at the summer Olympics, not to mention sports in general.



These two are fairly self explanatory. They’re controlled physical combat; someone is going to get hurt. Boxing and Wrestling both have roots going all the way back to the ancient Olympics, which has helped keep them a staple in the modern Olympics for over a century. Fortunately, in Olympic boxing, the athletes wear more padding than one might see at a match in Vegas. In wrestling, less protection is worn, but the goal is to pin one’s opponent, not punch and possibly knock them unconscious. As it stands, boxing has had its share of controversy at the Olympic games. It did not take place at the 1912 games in Stockholme, because boxing was banned there at the time. In 1988, one of the largest scandals in modern Olympic history occurred when Roy Jones Jr. clearly dominated Park Si-Hun only to lose to judges who can only be described as biased and corrupt.


While we have the summer Olympics in 2008, the winter Olympics in 2010 are indeed on the horizon, and a nod should be given to the dangerous sports those games partake in as well.



Ninety miles an hour is fast. It’s fast in a car built for the autobahn. Anyway you cut it, when it comes to humans, ninety miles an hour is fast. So if you’re going to do it, why not do it in a skin tight suit on a small plank with two blades on the bottom on a track made of concrete and ice? Even better, when you fall off, now you’re going 90 miles per hour on your back with two blades on a plank flying around you. Good times. The luge is widely accepted as one of the most dangerous sports in ALL of the Olympics. Part of the problem is due to the lack of friction with the ice, which means once one crashes they keep going. If luck is on the athlete’s side, they’ll slowly slide to a stop. If luck takes a holiday, however, the athlete could find themselves colliding into the side of the track at speeds that one could be ticketed for on the freeway.



Like the luge, skiing is also widely considered to be one of the Olympics most dangerous sports due to the fact that once one has an accident, they keep going. With skiing however, one can find themselves rolling down a hillside with large planks attached to their feet, forcing their lower extremities into all sort of angles mother-nature never intended for. Downhill skiers can also easily reach speeds that would be considered fast in a car. Skiers, however, don’t have airbags, seatbelts, and a cage made of steel when they crash. And while some of their events send them barreling down hillsides, others send them hurtling through the air with nothing beneath them except for more hard-packed snow.




Many coaches will describe how sports require determination, and skill. But they almost always leave one thing out. Beyond the determination, beyond the skill, sports also require the guts to face the intrinsic dangers that come with each individual sport. After all, if it were easy, we wouldn’t be so enthralled with watching our favorite athletes. And every two years we wouldn’t have the Olympic games.


Whether you are headed to Beijing in person this year or watching the Olympics from home don’t miss the 2008 Beijing Olympics eGuide. This handy and free to download resource provides in depth information about all the Beijing Olympic events, venues and schedules as well as transport and venue maps.

11 Responses to “The 9 Most Dangerous Olympic Sports”

  1. Alex Tan Says:

    What? No pistol marksmanship? No fencing?

    I understand why curling isn’t on the list, but still… :D

  2. Julie Thomas Says:

    I see that you completely failed to mention equestrian.

    Horses and people have died at the Olympics in Equestrian.

    In the U.S….
    Vaulting injuries per year: 20,000
    Vaulting deaths per year: 1
    Equestrian injuries per year: 50,000 (not including the horses that were injured)
    Equestrian deaths per year: 210 (not including the horses that died)

    Just look a bit on youtube.

  3. Robin Kopplin Says:

    Actually, while equestrian can be incredibly dnagerous and people can and do die, there has never been an equestrian (rider) death at the Olympics. There have only been four deaths at the Olympics, total.

  4. gaylyn Says:

    the gymnastics one. it was the 2000 olympics.

  5. kendra Says:

    i do gymnastics and I LOVE IT! <33

  6. Josh Wadakamper Says:

    Basketball is not dangerous

  7. Josh Wadakamper Says:

    u have to be kidding me

  8. Josh Wadakamper Says:

    your mom

  9. Larson Niles Cole Says:

    basketbal is not dangerous at all

  10. pumpkin pie Says:

    how is basket ball dangerous and you would think hockey would be on there

  11. dana Says:

    wat no figure skating? i luv it but its super dangerous!

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