A History of Olympic Injuries

This article discusses some of the worst Olympic injuries that have happened through the history of the Olympic Games.

Rome Olympics, 1960

  • Athlete: Knud Jensen
  • Country: Denmark
  • Event: 110km Cycling Time Trial
  • Incident: Multiple, fatal, injuries.
  • Injury: Fractured skull, heatstroke, death.

What Happened?

Knud Jensen was just 23 years old when he participated in the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. He was part of the Dutch team cycling in the 100km Time Trial when he tragically died.

Jensen and his teammates were cycling in 30 degree heat when he complained of dizziness. His teammates supported him on his bike whilst squirting water in his face to cool him down and briefly, Jensen appeared to recover. However, when they released their grip Jensen collapsed, cracking his skull on the hard road. He was transported to a military hospital tent where he lay for two hours before sadly passing away. His death was originally reported as being the result of extreme heat stroke. However, many questioned whether he had become the victim of a doping scandal. This has never been confirmed. His death is known as one of the worst Olympic injuries of all time.


Seoul Olympics, 1988

  • Athlete: Greg Louganis
  • Country: United States
  • Event: Diving
  • Incident: Head injury
  • Injury: Concussion

What Happened?

U.S diver Greg Louganis gained a concussion rather than gold after attempting a reverse two-and-a-half somersault pike. As you can see in the video below, he failed to completely clear the diving board and smacked his head mid-spin. His accident was not debilitating and he completed the preliminary rounds despite his injury.

WARNING: Video shows the injury in detail, and linked videos may depict other graphic Olympic injuries.

Beijing Olympics, 2008

  • Athlete: Angel Matos
  • Country: Cuba
  • Event: Taekwondo (80kg bronze match)
  • Incident: Attacked a referee
  • Injury: Mild bruising

What Happened?

In 2008, Angel Matos incurred a foot injury whilst fighting against Kazakhstan’s Arman Chilmanov. As a result, he decided to take a ‘kyeshi,’ which is a medical timeout. Under World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) rules players who have sustained injury are allowed a one minute timeout. Yet Matos’s injury (a broken toe) was clearly too severe for him to continue, and the one minute timeout elapsed without him having returned to the ring. Under WTF rules the referee had to disqualify Matos. Subsequently, Chilmanov was declared the winner by default. Upon hearing this, Matos became enraged and kicked the referee in the face before shoving a judge and spitting on the floor. For his disgraceful behaviour he was disqualified from any further events for life. It is very rare that an athlete causes Olympic injuries to a referee!

 London Olympics, 2012

  • Athlete: Manteo Mitchell
  • Country: United States
  • Event: Men’s 4x400m Relay
  • Incident: Broken Leg
  • Injury: Broken left fibula bone

What Happened?

At London 2012 Manteo Mitchell demonstrated an incredible amount of endurance when he helped his team become joint winners of the race despite running half of his section on a broken leg. Mitchell was 100m into the 400m stretch when he described a strange feeling in his leg. Continuing on, Mitchell had only just crossed the 200m mark when he, “felt it break.” Despite being in agony, Mitchell was spurred on by the passion of his team mates and continued to run the next 200m. He passed the baton to his team mate, and secured their place as joint fastest qualifiers for the final race. In a comment Mitchell joked, “I’m pretty amazed that I still split 45 seconds on a broken leg.”[1]


Rio Olympics, 2016 (So far…)

There have been multiple serious injuries in just the first few days of the Rio Olympics, leading the Mirror to declare – “Is this the most dangerous Olympics ever?”[2] Below we list the most serious Olympic injuries so far.

1. The Vista Chinesa

Serious questions have arisen specifically regarding the safety of the ‘Vista Chinesa’ road race track after five athletes crashed and three suffered multiple Olympic injuries on the extreme hairpin bends.

After witnessing Van Vleuten’s particularly horrific crash in the Women’s Road Race, UK Cyclist and commentator Chris Boardman stated: “’I’m actually quite angry because I looked at the road furniture and thought nobody can crash here and get up. This was way past technical, this was dangerous.” Fellow British champion Victoria Pendleton echoed his statement: “It is an absolutely incredibly dangerous course.”[3]

With the organisers being blamed for designing an extremely dangerous course, will they face consequences?

Here are two injury profiles of the most seriously injured athletes:

  • Athlete: Vincenzo Nibali
  • Country: Italy
  • Event: Cycling: Men’s Road Race
  • Incident: Crash
  • Injury: Double Fractured Collarbone


  •  Athlete: Annemiek van Vleuten
  • Country: Netherlands
  • Event: Cycling: Women’s Road Race
  • Incident: Skidded off the road on a hairpin turn, flipped over the handlebars, and was left unconscious at the side of the road.
  • Injury: Multiple fractures in her back.

2. Gymnastics

  • Athlete: Samir Ait Said
  • Country: France
  • Event: Gymnastics: Men’s Vault
  • Incident: Broken leg
  • Injury: Broken Tibia

26-year-old French gymnast Samir Ait Said horrifically broke his leg during the men’s vault qualifications, leaving viewers shocked. What’s worse, once he had been carried away on a stretcher it is reported that the paramedics dropped him, undoubtedly causing him even more pain. Unfortunately, the gymnast had also previously had to pull out of the 2012 Olympic Games due to injury. Videos of the incident can be found easily online but be aware that the injury is extremely graphic.

  1. Weight lifting

  • Athlete: Andranik Karapetyan
  • Country: Armenia
  • Event: 77kg Weight Lifting Competition
  • Incident: Overextension
  • Injury: Dislocated Elbow

Armenian weightlifter Andranik Karapetyan badly dislocated his elbow when attempting to lift 195kg (429lbs) in the 77kg competition. The elbow was damaged so badly it almost fragmented. He was immediately rushed away to hospital.

He has a long road of rehabilitation ahead. Kazakhstan’s Nijit Rahimov proceeded to win the gold medal.


As you can see, even super humans are not invincible and our best athletes can become injured doing what they love. If you’ve experienced an injury that wasn’t your fault you can use our claimometer here or give us a call on 0800 025 0000 to see if you have a compensation claim.


[2] ‘Is this the most dangerous Olympics ever? The horrific accidents that have already left three Rio athletes with agonising injuries,’ The Mirror, (15th August 2016),

[3] ‘Annemiek van Vleuten recovering in hospital after suffering broken bones in her spine in horror cycling crash,’ the Daily Mail, (9 August 2016),

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