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Three years later, she remembers the date exactly. On April 6, 2021, Ève Planeix is training in the swimming pool of the National Institute for Sport, Expertise and Performance (Insep) – located in the Bois de Vincennes in Paris –, which she joined in 2016 and where she trains with the French artistic swimming team [le nom officiel de la natation synchronisée depuis 2017, ndlr]. In the ballet composed of eight swimmers, Ève Planeix is the vaulter. It is she who soars into the air during lifts and performs acrobatic tricks.
“We were in training, it was the end of training and we repeated the choreography from the start, until it was perfect. The first lift was a new acrobatics that I didn’t really master, I tended to do big flats on the neck and head. With fatigue, I tried too much and couldn’t hold my head. I had a black veil, I was taken out of the water and I stopped training immediately”says the swimmer from Clermont, triple team bronze medalist and fifth in free solo at the European Championships in Rome, in August 2022.
“I no longer knew where my verticality was”
Ève Planeix did not consult immediately and did not suspect for a single moment that she had suffered a concussion. “In some sports, concussion is under-recognized and under-diagnosed.says Sébastien Le Garrec, doctor and head of the medical center of Insep since 2018. A concussion is a brain trauma not necessarily linked to a direct fall, for which there is no visible anatomical lesion, but disturbances of cognitive functions.
In the case of Ève Planeix, the first symptoms appear quickly: headaches, fatigue, problems of orientation in space. “I no longer knew where my verticality was”, assures the sportswoman. She consults the doctor and follows a battery of tests that make up the concussion protocol.
The swimmer is evaluated through the SCAT (for Sport concussion assessment tool), the reference tool for health professionals to detect concussions in sport. The results are not very convincing. She is ordered to stop for two days, without any screen-related solicitation, and prefers to stay in total darkness.
“We are asked for a large number of acrobatic lifts”
Usually, concussion and associated protocol are common parlance in combat sports or more generally in contact sports between athletes, such as rugby. And if he is more used to seeing judokas, wrestlers, boxers or even taekwondoists parade through his office, Dr. Le Garrec has seen things evolve in artistic swimming lately. “Aerobatics are more important than a few years ago.”
What the coach of the France team, Julie Fabre, confirms: “We are asked for a large number of acrobatic lifts, which did not exist twenty years ago. On the other hand, the rules have just changed and the lifts are codified: imposed number, penalty if the acrobat lands too close to the base of the lifts. This allows you to set a limit on risk taking. Conversely, acrobatics were prohibited on the starting beach [avant de rentrer dans l’eau, ndlr]now it is allowed.
On the edge of the basin, the tricolor coach is in the front row and must be extra vigilant. If concussions do not punctuate her daily life, she still had to manage between two and five, since she trained at Insep. “We check that there are no severity criteria, such as loss of consciousness or abnormalities on the neurological examination. The risk is to miss a head trauma which requires a brain MRI and hospital care.explains Sébastien Le Garrec.
In the life of an athlete, injury is always a hindrance to performance. Ève Planeix, like another of her comrades more recently, suffered a concussion a few weeks before a big deadline. “I was two months away from the Olympic qualification tournament for the Tokyo Games”, continues the artistic swimmer. After forty-eight hours of rest, the high-level sportswoman returns to training, but the headaches do not go away.
“It was not easy for the team because we were in the dark, not knowing if I was going to be there or not”, she recalls. After several consultations, it is the rest of three weeks which is envisaged, far from the noise of the basins, the choreographies upside down and the tireless lengths of apnea, not really compatible with his physical state. “We are talking about a vital organ: the brain. For athletes, concussion is not a taboo but can be penalizing. Of course, we are there to help them perform, but not at any price.reframes the referring doctor.
After a long work of re-athleticization based on yoga, short swimming sessions to teach the brain the taste for effort, Ève Planeix was able to resume her place within the France team and some adaptations were made. “From now on, when we work the entire ballet, we do the empty lifts”says the 22-year-old Auvergne, who already has the Paris Olympics in mind.
Moreover, Ève Planeix and her teammates will have to prepare a new acrobatic program, which will be combined with the already existing programs (technical and free), during the Olympic event in August 2024. [durant lequel les hommes seront autorisés à concourir, pour la première fois aux JO, ndlr]. “There will be more lifts to be carried out, but with more rules supposed to limit accidents. It’s a double-edged sword.”specifies Julie Fabre.
Insep raises awareness as much as possible
“The phenomenon of concussions is not new in artistic swimming, but the subject has been discussed more for two or three years. Swimmers and coaches are more sensitive to it and therefore more attentive., assures Sébastien Le Garrec. But France is lagging far behind. “The French Rugby Federation has been a pioneer in the management of concussions [pour autant, des joueurs victimes de commotions ont récemment déposé un recours en justice envers les instances françaises, ndlr]. But for other disciplines, Europe is lagging behind North America.he points out.
Within Insep, there is awareness-raising action with those primarily concerned. But it seems insufficient. “We see the athletes once a year to take stock, that’s when we talk about it.reports the doctor. We have reworked the management of concussion a lot, in particular with the neurosurgeon Philippe Decq. In the temple of French sport, a new document being finalized should therefore see the light of day shortly and make it possible to raise awareness more widely for those who are most affected.
Tags: artistic swimming risk concussion real