Dr Gary O’Driscoll talks about altitude prior to the Lions game in Pretoria.
On how important preparation for playing at altitude is
Rather than ignore the affects of altitude though we have tried to make the most of them by spending two weeks early on in the tour identifying the players who were affected and we found that only six or seven of the guys were significantly affected and that varies from sleep disturbance dehydration, nausea, dizziness and fatigue. The rest of the squad weren’t significantly affected and that is the nature of altitude sickness and acclimatization – some people are more affected by it than others.
By picking out those guys that we knew were affected we’ve treated them on a hypoxic protocol of exercise in the interim period and by going back on Friday we will avoid any of the issues that come on acutely because we are playing within 24 hours and then by staying for another week we will be fine by the time the third Test comes around. In an ideal world you would have started the tour and carried on and played all our games at altitude without coming back down because some of the benefits we have accrued will have dissipated by being back at sea level for three or four weeks but by keeping the guys on the hypoxic protocol in the meantime we’ve managed to maintain those guys that we concerned about.
On how the Sharks players named in the Springboks team will be affected
They have only come back to altitude on Monday and to get the benefits of a full acclimatization process you need to be there at least two weeks. The advantage is however that this is something they are well used to and they will know how their body adapts and how it is affected by altitude because it won’t be anything new to them which does give the Springboks that slight advantage.
On the advance planning that was undertaken to deal with the altitude situation
I think I was first asked about it about two years ago and it is something as doctors with international rugby teams that we are used to. We’ve been to South Africa before and we’ve prepared there before.
We circle many, many different sports in the English Institute of Sport and we went to Australia and looked at the way they manage it in the United States as well. The preparation has gone on for that long because it’s an issue that we wanted to be as up to date on as we possibly could be. Again it’s not simply a straight forward science because every persons physiology is different so there is huge variation from player to player but we feel we’ve got the optimum management for it.
On how easy it will be to see the effects on Saturday
The players will be aware of it very early on but the adrenaline will be at such a high level that it won’t be at an issue early on. I think come the last five or ten minutes with the intensity of the game and as the adrenaline wears off we may well be aware of players who are struggling and that is when you look to use your bench. There may be players who feel the heat and the lack of oxygen more than others and we are well aware of those guys – there are no more than two or three within the squad who are playing on Saturday and we will be keeping a close eye on them.