GOTHENBURG, July 26 Olympic boxers risk fighting while still suffering the effects of concussion as they strive to win medals at the London Games, according to research carried out in Sweden by a doctor and former boxer.
Sanna Neselius, of Gothenburg's Sahlgrenska hospital, told Reuters how tests had shown that, despite showing no symptoms, many amateur boxers were returning to the ring before full recovery.
A former amateur and professional in the female version of the sport, Neselius said spinal fluid was extracted from each of the boxers one to six days after their last fight. The test was then repeated two weeks later.
"What we found was that 80 percent of the boxers had high levels of certain proteins in their spinal fluid, which means that they have got small amounts of damage to the brain, which we call concussion," she said.
"After the rest period most of them had normalized, but 20 percent still had elevated concentrations."
Amateur boxers like Salomo Ntuve, a Swedish Olympic prospect pounding a punchbag in a suburban gym while his brother looked on, will have to take part in up to six fights in two weeks in order to win a medal.
That allows lttle time for rest or recovery, but the 23-year-old shrugged off the risk.
"It's not like you're fighting every day. If I'm fighting today, tomorrow I relax and then the day after I'm fighting again," he said in a break to his routine at the Angered Boxing Club.
"It's enough. I have been boxing for nine years, I can recover after one day," said Ntuve, whose family came from Tanzania.
Beaten semi-finalists in the Olympic ring are assured of bronze medals, and amateurs also wear headguards which reduce the risk of brain trauma.
Fights are shorter than the professional sport, where many retired boxers suffer from diseases and conditions related to head blows received during their careers.
Ntuve said he was well aware of the dangers of boxing but they did not bother him - although they did worry his family, which in turn made him uneasy.
"Almost every sport is dangerous. Boxing is dangerous because people think it's dangerous, but it's not so dangerous," he declared.
"Of course my mom gets worried, of course my dad gets worried when they see me fighting, that's why I don't want them to come to the Olympics. If they worry, I'm going to be worried too."
Ntuve said he had never felt concussed and never been knocked out in his amateur career but was resigned to it happening at some point in the future.
"I tell myself if I continue to box, I will get knocked out some day, but I don't want that day to come. It's a part of boxing to be knocked out, but I'm just worried about not losing," he said.
Asked how he prepared mentally to protect himself with so many fights in such a short time, Ntuve laughed.
"Prepare mentally? I prepare mentally to kick his ass, that guy in the other corner. Just go inside and win, that's the most important thing for me," he said.
Neselius said the long-term effects of the sort of minor brain damage suffered by Olympic boxers were as yet unclear.
"What we do know is that early studies have not been able to show (long-term damage), but we have to learn more. It will be interesting to follow this group and see what will happen in the long term, what will happen with the people who had elevated concentrations," she said.
Ntuve's immediate focus was on the London Games but he intended to fight on afterwards regardless of the risks involved.
"I will keep boxing. It's my thing - people know me as a boxer," he said. (Editing by John Mehaffey/Alan Baldwin)