Ex-skater is part of Olympic medical research team

Debbie will be keeping top flight athletes on track

Date posted

12 July 2016


Last updated

21 November 2023

AN Edinburgh Napier academic and former Olympic skater is heading to the Rio Olympics as part of a project to protect the athletes of the future from everything from torn ligaments to tummy bugs.

Dr Debbie Palmer-Green, a lecturer and researcher in sports injury and illness prevention, won 15 medals at World and European level as a short track speed skater and competed for Great Britain in three Winter Olympics before retiring at the 2002 Salt Lake Games.

The academic will make the journey to the greatest show on earth in Brazil next month as part of her work with the International Olympic Committee Scientific and Medical Research group.

The IOC have a mandate to protect the health of elite athletes, and Debbie, 42, is a member of the medical research team which will record all instances of injuries and illness among the competitors in Rio.

The team monitors athlete health during major Games events to establish how and when injuries and illnesses occur, with the aim of identifying the risks linked to top level sport and recommending actions to reduce them.

While sports fans at home are glued to the action in Rio, Debbie will be travelling between the athletes’ village and competition venues, analysing medical computer records and collating data.

Her work with the IOC will be used to devise new strategies to help all competing countries combat injury and illness, whether it be by tackling hygiene issues to reduce the threat of stomach bugs in the athletes’ village or by making changes to training regimes and/or competition rules.

Debbie, who lectures in injury and illness epidemiology at Edinburgh Napier, said: “Much of our work in Rio is based around ensuring quality of data collection during the Games, to ensure we capture key information in what is a high-pressure sporting environment for athletes, coaches and medical staff. 

“With almost 11,000 athletes across multiple Olympic sites, it is enjoyable but challenging work. Ultimately, the aim is for us to provide new knowledge and key information that national and international sporting governing bodies can work with going forwards, for the benefit of athlete health.”

The IOC’s Injury and Illness Surveillance Programme has evolved since 2004, when the focus was on the summer Games and team sports only, and this will be Debbie’s third Olympic Games working for the IOC. In addition to in-Games research, the body now funds research centres around the world, studying health issues in the general exercising population as well as elite sport.

Her most recent work at Edinburgh Napier, in collaboration with the Arthritis Research UK Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis, includes research into injury and the occurrence of osteoarthritis (OA) and the use of exercise in preventing and treating OA. She previously worked with UK Sport and the Scottish and English Sports Institutes on injury and illness studies in Great Britain Olympic Sports.

Debbie said: “Sporting injury and illness is hugely interesting as a research area. Using epidemiology and prevention studies to identify and then decrease the risks associated with sport participation, while still promoting the benefits of exercise, can have a real impact on the long-term health of not just elite athletes but also the general sporting population. It’s a great area of work to be involved with.”