A Winter Olympic Experience

Hosting an Olympics is like giving birth to 82 countries, where the contractions last for eight years, the dilation has to accommodate hundreds of athletes marching out and insisting on carrying flags.

One thing is very clear, the culmination of one Olympics only brings with it the problems from the previous Olympics, for example the urine testing of Olympic athletes, these people and doctors deserve a pat on the back as we don’t really want to shake their hands, for they have to send back 30 drugged Olympians prior to the commencement of the games.

One of the shifts posing with the Canadian skeleton drivers

There is also the protestors to the Olympics – all those protesting against the hosting of the games and the misappropriation of government funding.
My trip to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics to work for Vancouver Olympic committee (VANOC) at the polyclinic was an awesome experience.
We worked out of a huge tent in the middle of the Olympic athletes’ village in Function Junction, about half an hour outside of Whistler and two hours away from Vancouver.

As a therapist we had two shifts a day, either 07h00 to 15h00 or 15h00 to 23h00.
There was a meeting and hand over at the start of each shift, prior to each session and then the session started.
There were three physiotherapists; three massage therapists and one chiropractor on every shift.
Over and above this there was a team of trauma specialists and nurses working from a fully equipped theatre, six ICU beds, two dentists, two physicians, a sports medical doctor, an orthopaedic surgeon, an optometrist, two pharmacists, four nurses, two paramedical ambulance crews and one pair of air paramedics, as well as a team of radiologists for the CT, MRI, X-Ray, and ultrasonographers as a shift team working under the administrators controlling the statistics and the bookings of the athlete’s appointments.

The winter Olympics are invigorating, they are High Speed, High Risk, High Adrenaline and as a result Highly Dangerous, except for curling that is.
My first real realization of this was when the young Georgian luge, Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed on an unofficial training session, just prior to the opening ceremony on Friday the 11th of February 2010.
Still today the debate looms as to whether it was poor skill levels, bad judgement on the part of the athlete, bad design or the high speed of the track to blame for his death.
None the less, this was the greatest tragedy at the games.
From then on the staff at the polyclinic were placed on a 5-minute alert.

The opening ceremony was a cultural event of colours, fireworks, fantastic choreography and was magic to have been in the arena watching the rehearsal.
It was amazing to go and watch the Luge the following night to see just how fast these guys and girls travel on the ice track, just 6 centimeters from the ice in excess of 140km/h. on an adapted track to slow the lugers down and to try make the track less risky, (much to the disgust of the athletes).

Two days later I was watching the skeleton races do their thing on the same track but instead of lying on their backs, they go down the ice on their stomachs head first- absolutely awesomely crazy and amazing at the same time.
Then two nights later it was the turn of the two and then the four “man” bobsleigh teams.

Me posing with the one of the Olympic torchbearers, holding the torch.

During the days, when I was on the late shifts I went to watch supreme athletes doing Biathlon and the cross-country.
On one of these days a young Polish girl, was competing in the qualifying heat of the cross-country sprints, when she fell off the track and injured her side. She was able to get up and qualify for the heats two hours later.
She raced and qualified for the quarterfinals, an hour later.
She then raced finishing as one of the quickest losers to advance to the semi-finals, which she went on to finish second and race in the finals.
All this taking place within 90 minutes of the quarters. In the final she collapsed over the line finishing in third place, and the paramedics had to bring her into the polyclinic.
Upon assessment and MRI. They diagnosed her with three broken ribs and a pneumothorax.
This young polish hero had competed the whole day in absolute pain and very little oxygen, but with a tube in her side she was escorted, by the physician to the medal presentation that evening to receive her bronze medallion. This is what separates the good from the greats.

I suppose for me not really coming from a snow ski background all the events were amazing, sliding down a ramp and flying through the sky for over a hundred and twenty meters was mind blowing.

It was not only work, I had time to ski, snowboard and of course, go dog sledging
The ability of the biathletes to slow their heart rates down that they can shoot at a target the size of a ten-cent coin from fifty meters away was incredible.
The speed and skill of the downhill skiers, bobsleighers, skeleton and luge drivers, the snowboarders, the agility and courage of the Arial artists, were brilliant, and the cherry on the top was to watch the ice hockey, the players skills and veracity was great.

One of the therapy shifts having a laugh

I was privileged to have worked on and with athletes from all over the world treating all sorts of acute and chronic injuries, but the best thing about the polyclinic was that everyone was there to work as an integral member of the team and worked at getting the athlete back at their event as soon as possible.
No task was to big or small for the specialists and having the opportunity to work in such an environment with different specialists in their fields sharing advice and knowledge was brilliant.

Ian Hacker
– SASMA-accredited physiotherapist