China’s first team of ski doctors saves athletes on snow
Published: Feb 16, 2022 10:07 PM
Ski doctors at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games Photo: IC

Ski doctors at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games Photo: IC

Alpine skiing stands out as one of the most dangerous sports at the Winter Olympics. It not only has the highest injury rate among the winter events, but is also one of the most difficult events for medical rescue teams. Along with athletes, this competitive sport also sheds lights on China's first team of ski doctors.

In the field, if there's an accident, ski doctors have to be on the scene in four minutes with a 10-kilogram medical bag, and they have to deal with the injuries and remove the injured athlete from the track in just 15 minutes. The biggest challenge for alpine skiing doctors is not only skiing proficiently on professional mountain courses with a gradient of around 70 degrees, but also stopping accurately on smooth courses, according to media reports. 

Guo Qi, deputy medical officer of the skiing medical team, said in an interview with China Central Television that in order to prevent drugs from being frozen in extreme weather, doctors have to pre-draw some drugs and seal them in their close-fitting jackets, with their body heat used to prevent freezing.

Training six hours a day, four weeks in a row, Chinese ski doctors have been doing this kind of intense physical and mental training for four winters, Guo said. 

Bai Peng, a member of the doctors team for alpine skiing and an anesthesiologist at the Third Hospital of Peking University, told the Global Times on Wednesday that the temperature during the competition is usually -20 C or -30 C, and ski gloves need to be removed during the inspection process. Within one minute, people usually become numb, lose perception ability and become dull because of the extreme weather, which is a great challenge for the rescue.

The Global Times learned from the Third Hospital of Peking University that five ski doctors from the hospital are on duty for the Beijing 2022, three in Yanqing and two in Chongli.

"That track has become pretty familiar to us. Even if my eyes are closed, I can remember every road and every bend in my mind. The country encourages 300 million people to participate in winter sports, and if 300 million people do, we must ensure that they come down safely," Bai said.

The alpine medical team selected nearly 40 ski doctors in China in 2018. Che Lu, a member of the medical support team for alpine skiing at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, told the Xinhua News Agency that the training intensity during the past four years was great, as she had to get used to the icy snow specially prepared for alpine skiing and had to keep herself from slipping on steep slopes.

In order to be competent for this job, which requires a high level of physical fitness, in the non-snow season she works out more than three times a week, so that her weight-bearing ability, muscle strength and reaction speed can remain at high levels.

Tian Jialu, another member of the group, also told Xinhua that since December 2018, they have been skiing on steep slopes with heavy first-aid bags and practicing taking on and off their skis. After more than three years of all-round training, ski doctors can carry a 15 kilogram first-aid kit and slide freely on various slopes.

The medical support team for the Beijing 2022 is an international team, consisting of foreign and Chinese ski doctors, foreign and Chinese patrol members, Chinese medical stations and a Chinese helicopter rescue team.

When foreign ski doctors first came to China before the opening ceremony, they may have had some doubts because there were no professional ski doctors in China before that point. After communication and working together, they have seen that our professional and skiing skills were actually very strong, Bai said.

According to Tian, before the competition began, Chinese ski doctors communicated with Jenny Shute, the vice chairman of the International Ski Federation (FIS) Medical Committee, about the rescue process and conducted rescue drills on the track. Doctors from the FIS were full of praise for China's rescue work, as well as the preparation of backpacks and the preservation of first-aid medicines in the extreme cold.

"Although we are still in the learning process, with the deepening of the competition, our confidence and experience are also accumulating. We have the confidence to complete the task of the Beijing 2022," Che noted.