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On the fencing piste at London 2012

Kessie Soper shares her experience of London 2012.

Having volunteered to provide physiotherapy support for the London 2012 Games, I was allocated to the sport of fencing which was based at the Excel arena. Fencing is a sport which I’d only worked with briefly once prior to the Games, so this provided a fantastic experience both to learn about a new sport and to be involved with London 2012.

Nearly 2 years after applying to be involved, Games time was finally approaching and I was so excited to have the opportunity to fulfil a lifelong dream to be involved in an Olympic Games.  I had several days of training and my first shift was the week before the competition began. There was already a real buzz of excitement at the venue with everyone working hard on final touches to make sure everything was ready.  The athletes could use the training areas for technical training and familiarisation. This was one of the busiest times in the clinic as the athletes were keen to iron out any last minute niggles; and it was great to start to get to know some of the fencers who would be competing.

kessie on the Piste

After the inspiration of an amazing opening ceremony, the fencing competition began on day one of the Games. With everything in place – special lighting and a sell-out crowd – the atmosphere in the arena was electric. My main role as physio was to sit at the side of the fencing piste with a doctor and be ready to assess and treat any injuries which occurred on the field of play. In between play I was based in the athlete’s medical room to treat those who weren’t competing at the time. It certainly was a perk of the job to have a front row seat to watch all the action! Each day there were medals at stake; knock out qualifying rounds in the morning and the finals in the afternoon. It was great to be able to follow the action and to see the athletes so proudly collecting their medals at the end of the day.

I was surprised at how many injuries occurred during the course of the competition and how frequently I was required to go onto the field of play. Most of the injuries were minor, and the athletes were able to continue competing, though I was required to deal with a couple more serious injuries which unfortunately meant the end of the competition for the athletes involved. This is always a very difficult aspect of working in sport when so much hard work is lost in a moment.

The role also involved quite a bit of behind-the-scenes planning and organisation. As it was shift work I was often working with different people each day. The medical team consisted of a selection of doctors from various backgrounds, physiotherapists, sports massage practitioners and dentists. Each morning and afternoon, we gathered together to organise the day and practice how to deal with ‘worst case’ scenarios, including how to safely and efficiently remove an athlete from the field of play.

It was a great experience to meet and work with so many different professionals from all over the country, who normally work in completely different settings. I learnt all about the sport of fencing, including the 3 weapons, the rules associated with each weapon, equipment and technology, common fencing injuries and I even managed to grasp a little bit about tactics! Everyone involved was immensely friendly, eager to help and the competition ran very smoothly.

Overall, it was a fantastic experience which I will remember very fondly. I felt very proud to play a small part in the 2012 Olympic games, which I am sure will prove to have inspired a generation.