Monday, July 15

The World Academy for Endurance Medicine’s mission to safeguard athlete health at Paris 2024

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  • The World Academy for Endurance Medicine is a joint venture between the World Athletics Health & Science Department and the International Institute for Race Medicine
  • The Academy’s objective is to upskill healthcare professionals overseeing medical support at endurance events through education and training around the world

Expertise on the prevention, diagnosis and management of endurance sports-related illnesses at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games was shared during a series of training sessions recently delivered by the World Athletics Health & Science Department.

Continuing the work of the World Academy for Endurance Medicine (WAEM) to safeguard athlete health, the training sessions involved medical staff who will operate across various endurance sports venues at the Games, not just those in athletics.

More than 60 healthcare professionals benefitted from e-learning-based education that was followed by hands-on training sessions in the diagnosis and treatment of exertional heat stroke and exercise-associated hyponatremia, both potentially lethal conditions that can affect endurance athletes.

The WAEM, powered by World Athletics, is an educational entity that was created in 2021 when the International Institute for Race Medicine partnered with World Athletics’ Health & Science Department. During the last three years the WAEM’s development has been exponential, with the organisation of Race Emergency Medicine Courses (REMC) all around the world and the training and certification of hundreds of healthcare professionals, resulting in a global increase of medical services provided to hundreds of thousands of runners.

Following the inclusion of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and World Triathlon as partners in the WAEM, and considering the upcoming Paris Olympics, the WAEM developed a partnership with the Paris 2024 organising committee. The knowledge developed by WAEM staff in the prevention, diagnosis and management of endurance sports-related illnesses, such as exertional heat stroke and hydration-related illnesses, was an asset for the Paris 2024 medical management that filled an identified knowledge gap. In addition, the alarming scenario of a heat wave potentially hitting the French capital during the Games heightened the need for the collaboration.

Following the e-learning-based education sessions, the hands-on training delivered by the World Athletics Health & Science Department took place on 24 and 29 June.

Exertional heat stroke is an illness characterised by neurological symptoms and a core temperature above 40°C. It must be treated on site, at the racecourse or at the finish line, using cold water immersion baths, under the supervision of trained healthcare professionals and volunteers. Rapid local treatment is key, but this requires specific organisation, material and large quantities of supplies, such as ice and water. All of these aspects were part of the educational content provided by the WAEM staff to their French colleagues.

Exercise associated hyponatremia is another potentially lethal condition, triggered by an excessive intake of water. This is a potential threat, especially for the thousands of runners that will take part in the “Marathon pour tous”, a mass endurance race organised during the Paris Olympic Games. The solid relationship between the WAEM and Siemens Healthineers is strongly addressing this problem. Siemens Healthineers will provide ePOC® point-of-care devices during the Olympic Games, while WAEM staff have delivered training to the Paris 2024 medical staff on how to use the devices and measure sodium and other biochemical parameters.

However, as World Athletics’ Health & Science Department Science Manager Frederic Garrandes explained: “Intervention represents, to some extent, the failure of prevention. Following this training, the medical staff in Paris are now ready to rapidly identify and optimally treat these medical conditions, but it is essential to continue sending out the right prevention messages to both elite and recreational athletes competing in Paris.

“First, heat acclimatisation is easy to achieve and is by far the best preventive measure to safely compete in hot and humid conditions (Beat the Heat leaflet). Second, ensuring a good level of hydration is important, but endurance athletes should not overhydrate. Therefore, the best thing to do is to drink to thirst.”

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