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Sudden Cardiac Death in Athletes

Updated on December 11, 2012

Norwegian Olympic swimmer Alexander Dale Oen died of a heart attack at age 26 after training in Arizona. He was found dead in his shower by his teammates after he did not answer several knocks on his door. He was the most successful swimmer in Norwegian history and was the favorite for the 100 meter breaststroke for the London Summer Olympics.

Oen's death is only the latest in a string of young, healthy athletes from many sports dying of sudden cardiac arrest of the past few years. Italian Serie B player for Livorno Piermario Morosini collapsed and died on the pitch just 2 weeks ago at age 25. Pro players have died playing basketball, soccer, football and many other sports.

Of course oftentimes the reason for these deaths is given as an undiagnosed heart condition. However, we must remember that professional players are subject to frequent health exams and physical stress tests of various kinds in order to find just such health issues. Players are oftentimes multi-million dollar investments for pro sports clubs, which means they try to take care of their investments as much as possible. The real culprit can be found in the over training, over playing of players and even the use of performance enhancing substances.

If we take soccer for instance, we can see the huge differences that have taken place in the sport over the past 50 years. If we look back at film of matches from the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, for instance, we can see that the game was played much slower today, and they players physically looked pretty much like your average Joe. Fast forward to today, and we see players who are physically larger, stronger, more muscular, and more competitive than in the past. This doesn't necessarily mean that they love the game more than players did 50 years ago. It means that there is more money - much more money - at stake now for players and clubs. If you don't play at the most physically challenging level one game, you'll be on the bench the next game and might be left off of the starting lineup altogether. Or you might be sold to a different club. Players literally feel like they are playing for their lives. Millions of dollars are at stake not just for players but for the clubs. If their players don't play as hard as they can then the fans will turn against them, meaning that the coach will be given the sack as well. In European soccer this happens all the time.

This added physical and mental stress can easily break players. Training sessions are a lot harder and more frequent today than in the past, pushing players to their physical limits in all sports. Many Olympic athletes only have have one chance to be in the Olympics, and they will push themselves as far as they can in hopes of getting endorsement deals. The advertising world hates a loser.

I order to be able to take increased training session, athletes in all sports are given various legal and illegal performance enhancing creams, pills, shots and supplements that make them feel less tired or make them not feel the pain in their limbs. However, hearts don't forget. Just because you don't feel the pain or acknowledge being over worked, your heart will. Oftentimes these heart attacks come along from over work. I have yet to find any instance of a player dying during play in the past in any sport. The reason? It was accepted that players do have physical limits. Today's brain washing by companies with sleek ad campaigns like Nike which urge athletes to go above and beyond their own abilities doesn't help the situation. Sports has truly become a dog eat dog business where the bottom line has taken enjoyment of sports away.

It can even be argued that the Olympics is just a huge money making machine for sponsors and host cities. The doctors who develop performance enhancing drugs are always one (or many) steps ahead of those trying to test athletes for illegal use. In many sports it has become a question of who has the better chemists and labs than about actual, natural physical prowess. Sadly, it is often the players who end up suffering the ultimate price as cogs in the wheel. It has become a question of being better in order not just to be the best, but to be worth more monetarily, for the players themselves and for those who invest in them. It has become an unfair competition in many ways in most sports. Money has again triumphed over the mere joy of competing for competition's sake.

We see this in basketball too. Take a look at Larry Bird's physique compared to LeBron James. Basketball players have also become huge and much stronger than in the past. The importance placed in college sports in the United States also attests to the claim that it's a better investment to try to become a pro-player right out of college than earn a degree, which is not surprising in today's economy seeing as a degree has almost become worthless.

Sadly, the trend does not seem as it will change anytime in the future. The love of sports has been overtaken by greed and the almost sick need to win and succeed in order to gain financial riches. This is why we are seeing so many deaths of young athletes from sudden cardiac arrest. Over training and over working caused by the pressure to succeed that comes more from outside influences than from a mere love of sport.


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