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As the Olympics draw to a close, it’s important to recognize the amazing risks the athletes took – not only in sacrificing time and money, but potentially their lives – to make it to London. This list of the most dangerous Olympic sports shows that, just like your mother said, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

Weightlifting – Competitions between people to determine who can lift the heaviest weight have been around since ancient civilizations. The modern sport of Olympic Weightlifting takes this tried-and-true practice and refines it into two lifts, the snatch and the clean and jerk. The massive amounts of weight combined with the drive and competition make for a dangerous sport. A particularly frightening injury to watch happened to Janos Baranyai of Hungary in 2008 and Sa Jae-hyouk this year.

Pole Vaulting – Imagine propelling yourself up to 19’ in the air with the use of a fiberglass pole. Sounds fun, right? But wait. Now imagine all the possible painful outcomes. YIKES! Pole vaulting is one of the most impressive, yet challenging events in the Olympic games. This video shows just one of the many dangers of the precarious sport.

Cycling – Cyclists face all kinds of dangers on the road. Exhaustion, dehydration, crashes, runaway dogs….wait? Runaway dogs? That’s right – during this year’s kick-off to men’s Olympic road racing, a pooch pranced through the middle of the cyclists, nearly causing an Olympic-sized pile-up.

Gymnastics – Flipping, tumbling, balancing, flying. Gymnastics is one of the most physically challenging sports in all of the Olympic games, but they make it all look so easy! The list of injuries and accidents that have occurred during Olympic gymnastics competitions is long and diverse. More than 75,000 Americans (children and adults) were treated for gymnastics-related injuries in 2010, with medical costs totaling $170 million. Happily, the athletes often recover thanks to lots of training on how to fall properly. If you’re considering the sport yourself, progress incrementally and keep these tips in mind. And remember the grace of athletes like 2008 Silver Medalist Nastia Liukin who find the strength to continue their routines even after falls.

Fencing – It looks so distinguished but we shouldn’t forget that it’s a sport that is violent at its roots. Fencing involves two competitors attempting to overcome one another using bladed weapons. Although participants wear guards and the weapons are dull, accidents can still happen. In 1982, Vladimir Smirnov of Russia was competing in the Fencing World Championship when his competitors blade broke and penetrated Smirnov’s mask. The broken blade entered his eye orbit, then his brain. Smirnov died nine days later.

Diving – The gracefulness of the dives have us all “ooh-ing and ahhh-ing,” but before you make plans to copy the dives at your next pool party, remember Greg Louganis and his head-smacking dive from the springboard in 1988. He suffered a concussion but went on to continue the competition and win the gold medal. Greg has gone on to write books and speak about his experiences, becoming an inspiration to many.

Equestrian Eventing – This graceful Olympic sport may also be one of the scariest. The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) says that over the past eight years at international competitions, seven riders have died. Fortunately, the FEI has taken steps to prevent falls where a horse somersaults over a jump and falls on its back (which permanently disables riders 25% of the time!). There’s been more attention paid to the horses’ health in this competition as well, as 12 horses have died at FEI events in the UK and US since 2009.

So while you’re watching those adorable gymnastics tumble through the air or swimmers splashing through the water, remember these athletes are laying their bodies, and sometimes safety, on the line to pursue dreams of greatness and triumph.

Photo courtesy of Raphael Goetter.

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