This type of injury is unheard of in Olympic weightlifting competition. At least, in the last 25 years of high level international competition and US National competitions, an athlete has not severed their spine snatching. Most notably, Olympic Champion Matthias Steiner dropped 196kg (432lbs!) on his neck, and walked away fine.
In effect, as a community, we need to look closely at this injury. We need to ask ourselves - how is it possible that a high level cross fit athlete sever their spine in competition doing a snatch?? Further, ow does this happen at a weight far below what the athlete was capable of and far less than the world or national record for a lifter of his bodyweight?
It is unhelpful to call this injury a freak accident, as failing to understand the causes fails to save future crossfit athletes from this fate.
From reviewing the video of Mr. Ogar's lifts and the lift that resulted in the spinal injury, 3 things stand out: (1) technique, (2) bar, (3) competition setting.
1. Technique- and how if affects the spine
From viewing a sampling of Kevin's video, his lifts have the same technical errors as most crossfitters. In many of his lifts, he "swings the bar" versus perfect vertical explosion. "Swinging the bar" is very common problem in crossfit lifters.
This is a serious error as it puts undue stress on the spine. In lifting, your spine acts as a fulcrum. For every centimeter the bar is away from your body, the force on your spine is multiplied by a factor of 15! After about 5 cm, the force is multiplied by 30 times! (This is common knowledge from Soviet studies, particularly works of Medvedyev).
In effect, high level weightlifters rarely exhibit this technical error, as swinging the bar is dangerous and highly inefficient. What is interesting is that an athlete can be successful in crossfit with this technical error, and, further, this error is common among crossfit trainers and athletes.
To prevent spinal injuries, crossfitters and their coaches ought to look closely at their technique and seek out resources for improving it.
2. Bar quality and its mechanics
It is not clear what type or brand of bar that Kevin Ogar was lifting on at the OCC throwdown. That being said, most crossfits use non certified weightlifting bars. Some of these bars even lack needle bearings. In contrast Olympic weightlifting IWF certified bars are made of flexible steel with precision needle bearings.
There is a huge difference between "cheap" bars and IWF certified bars. Let me repeat that- there is a HUGE difference between cheap bars and bars that meet IWF certification standards.
Needle bearing certified bars spin freely when lifted. This eliminates the need for the lifter to exert torque on the bar at the top of the pull (note torque on the bar and torque in the lifter's joints are 2 different subjects).
Now, if you have a bar with either bushings or lower quality bearings, it will not spin freely. It will begin to whip, especially on the top of the pull. This whipping reaction further encourages technical errors like jumping back and swinging the bar. The whipping can also put more torque on the spine.
Finally, cheap bars are often less flexible and lack the bouncing capability of IWF certified bars.
The certified Olympic bars are designed to be highly flexible, to the point that they bounce and bend when impacting a lifter. Soviet researchers found, that on a molecular level, the Olympic bar flexes the moment a lifter grabs it. Certified bars manufacturing processes even require the bar to bend a full 180 degrees, like loop, before being shipped out.
This is a key reason why lifters like Matthias Steiner can drop over 400lbs on his neck and be uninjured. In the video of Steiner's 2012 missed lift, the bar mechanics are different from Kevin Ogar's lift. Further, there are many cases where olympic lifters walked away from bars dropping on their spines. The bar drops and bends around Steiner. In Ogar's lift, the bar used appeared stiffer; it's also interesting that the bar and Ogar drop down then backward.
Here is a video of Steiner's lift for comparison:
3. Competition setting
Basic competition etiquette in crossfit differs from Olympic lifting- this includes the physical space and cultural mindset.
In Kevin Ogar's injury, the competition area contained obstructions. Keeping the lifter in a clear space will prevent injury from a dropped bar striking other plates, and it will psychologically take the burden off the lifter to have to worry about these obstructions.
Finally, the crossfit competition setting can encourage breaking down form. Culturally, many crossfitters are taught that its "ok" to have bad form, as long as you make the lift and get the WOD done fast. In contrast, elite Olympic lifters are taught to train in fatigue conditions with even better form--in the Soviet System, the athlete needs to be fatigued in training such that their technique must improve and become more efficient.
Kevin Ogar's injury is unfortunate. It is preventable. It happened with in norms of his sport.
As a community, we can learn from and prevent these injuries. It starts with taking technique more seriously, with acknowledging that the quality of bars being used for specifically the olympic lifts matters, with acknowledging that a certain level of gym and competition etiquette is needed for safety.
You may donate to Kevin Ogar's injury fund at www.kevinogar.com
Soviet System Certification, Risto Sports, www.ristosports.com
Motivation for writing this article:
I really feel the conversation and on Mr. Ogar have been unhelpful to both the sport of crossfit and weightlifting. We need to talk about the factors mentioned above to prevent these injuries. This injury should never happern - ever. This is coming from both my experience as a lifter who competed at World Championship level weightlifting competition and as engineer that studied aerospace at MIT. I'm also someone who works with crossfitters on a regular basis, many of whom came into my gym with the same technical errors as Mr. Ogar and who were naive to the importance of needle bearing bars, weightlifting shoes, the need to snatch in spandex, bar loading etiquette etc...basic things which olympic lifters take for granted.