Lindsey Vonn remains one of the most gifted and decorated downhill skiers ever, and at age 33 she's poised to expand upon her greatness at the XXIII Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Yet her snowy paths to glory have been cratered with spectacular crashes and horrible injuries — broken bones, torn ligaments, concussions — that would have ended a less stalwart athlete's career.
Each time, though, Vonn's recovered, thanks in large part to the advanced sports medicine provided at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association's Center of Excellence in Park City, Utah. Along with availing herself of the latest and greatest gym equipment and machines at the COE, as it's known, Vonn has access to virtual reality setups to simulate racing down a slalom course, computers crunching big data to enhance performance (legally) and strobe glasses to help retrain the brain after knee injuries.
The 85,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility sits on five verdant acres in the Wasatch Mountains, just outside of Park City, home of USSA, the governing body of snow sports in the United States. It opened in 2009, paid for with $22 million in private donations — another reminder that the United States remains one of the only nations that doesn't fund its Olympic athletes. Besides training and education for Team USA skiers and snowboarders, the COE is a rehabilitation and sports medicine showcase. "The hardware and techniques we use are on the forefront of injury rehab," said Kyle Wilkens, medical director of USSA. "It's changing the way we serve our athletes."
Sunshine fills the sprawling first floor of the two-story COE, a gym rat's nirvana highlighted by neat rows of gleaming apparatus and workout stations divided into five areas: strength and conditioning, physiology, medical, sports psychology and nutrition. When an athlete begins a scheduled program, the trainers, coaches and sports medicine staff develop a distinct plan for that particular athlete, Wilkens said. "He or she touches base with each one of those five areas, and the staff communicates throughout the process. The atmosphere is very collaborative."
The personal evaluations of USSA athletes, and dozens of other Team USA athletes, are overseen by Dr. Bill Moreau, vice president of sports medicine at the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC). He and his associates leverage big data to assist trainers and coaches in designing individual regimens. "When we can use evidence-based medicine to drive decisions, it clearly makes a big difference in the outcomes of care," Moreau told the data analytics website kdnuggets.com.