Sochi and Quebec City: Memory and Desire
June 15, 2014
The first days of summer are almost here, the longest days of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. I have been looking forward to this since the dark days of December and January.
Summer carries its intrinsic sweetness with it every year, but this year my anticipation of these days has been wrapped up with dreams of Quebec City, where the 2014 Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine (CASEM) will have its annual meeting concurrently with the XXIII FIMS World Congress of Sports Medicine.
There is much to look forward to, including catching up with old friends. Connie Lebrun–who will be familiar to several readers of this blog–will be among the folks I see. Aside from communiques via email, I will typically only get the chance to see Connie at such conferences (I saw her last in Orlando, at the ACSM meeting). Among the many hats she wears, she is on this journal’s editorial board, and I enjoy her frequent contributions to the CJSM journal club feature.
Connie was the head physician for the Canadian Olympic team that traveled to Sochi earlier this year. I asked her to give a quick run down of her experiences in sports medicine at the 2014 Winter Olympics, and she has graciously obliged.
What did T.S. Eliot say about mixing memory and desire? I’m no poet, but I think it’s a natural combination to combine the two; and so here’s to the memories of Sochi, and the anticipation of what is to come in Quebec.
Memories of Sochi – Dr. Connie Lebrun
Just back last week from the American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting in Orlando Florida. The last session that I attended was a Special Event entitled “SOCHI 2014: Sports Medicine Challenges, Strategies and Solutions. It was submitted by the ACSM Olympic and Paralympic Issues Committee, of which I am a member, and Chaired by Dr. Margo Mountjoy, member of the IOC Medical Commission. She later spoke about the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Injury and Illness Surveillance system that they have been using at Olympic Games since 2008. A highlight for me, though, was hearing Dr. Alexey Pleskov, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for the Sochi 2014 Olympics and Paralympics – discussing Medical Services at the Games. Then Dr. Paul Piccinnini (DDS), also from the IOC Medical Commission, enlightened us about Management of Dental Disease and Oro-Facial Trauma during the 2014 Winter Olympics, which apparently accounts for ~ 40% of all athlete-treatments in the Polyclinic(s) at the Olympics. This was followed by a “tag-team” of Dr. Randy Wilber (PhD, USOC Training Center, Colorado Springs) and Dr. Nanna Meyer (PhD, RD) discussing the preparation of the US Speed Skating team, in terms of physiology and training, as well as outlining some of the sports nutrition challenges and strategies.
The presentations and photos brought back many memories for me, as I was honored to have been the Chief Doctor for the Health and Science Team (HST) for the Canadian Olympic Team. I was selected for this role approximately 1½ years prior to the Games. Our HST consisted of over 50 people, including 8 physicians who were nominated by their National Sport Federations (NSFs), and 4 physicians, who were part of the Core Teams at both the Coastal and Mountain venues. We also had an overall Chief Medical Officer (Dr. Bob McCormack), a Chief Therapist (Raymonde Fortin) and a Clinic Manager (Antoine Atallah). A number of therapists (including physiotherapists, athletic therapists, massage therapists and chiropractors), mental performance consultants (sports psychologists) and 2 nutritionists rounded out our team. Over the ensuing months, our Core group participated in 2 site visits (June and August of 2013), the second of which included a formal meeting with Dr. Alexey Pleskov (CMO) and his Assistant – Dr. Konstantin Shatokin. The details of their preparation put us at more ease, as at that point, much of the construction on the Athletes’ Villages and venues was still “in the works”, and we were not quite sure what to expect by February 2014. The fall of 2013 was filled with numerous conference calls and meetings, as well as the monumental task of placing our orders for the equipment and supplies for our Medical Clinics, as well as the necessary medications. (The former are shipped by sea in large trunks, whereas the medications go by air. There were challenges with Russian Customs laws limiting importation of narcotics, including, for some reason, dextromethorphan, which is a common ingredient in cough and cold medications. We had to get a bit creative in bringing in these products – as they are often needed. Although there is always a Host Polyclinic at the Olympic Games, where specialist services and imaging are readily available, we Canadians typically aim to be as self-sufficient as possible.
Our core group arrived in Sochi about a week before the athletes and their entourage started to come in, and went to work immediately to set up our Medical Clinics in the Coastal and Mountain Olympic Villages. We were pleasantly surprised to find our allocated residences and space for our Medical Clinics completed, clean and ready-to-go. Perhaps the best surprise of all was the absolute friendliness of the Russian volunteers. They were always smiling and helpful, and many of them spoke good English, so we felt as if we were always able to get help if we needed it.
About a week prior to Opening Ceremonies, activity in the Villages starts to ramp up, as the various teams and their entourage arrive and settle in, preparing for their competition. The experience has been described as something like 17 SuperBowls all in a row – as the adrenalin is high (and hours of sleep low!!). The action is fast and furious. I was stationed up in the Mountain Olympic Village – where the Snowboard, Freestyle, Bobsleigh, Luge and Skeleton teams stayed. (In the end, these athletes garnered 13 out of the total of 25 Canadian medals!) Because I was covering Biathlon at the Laura site – I travelled there by bus and gondola as needed, and for competitions (as we did not have a Medical Clinic set up there). The Cross Country venue was also located there, and both sports were very well attended. In particular, the Biathlon crowd was enthusiastic, to say the least – with music, cheerleaders, drummers etc. as entertainment, it was like the Beach Volleyball in the Summer Olympics. I enjoyed learning about the sport of Biathlon.
As team physicians, we are most privileged to be “behind the scenes” and experience interactions with the athletes that no spectators can ever match. For me it was pure delight to walk out of our residence to a panorama of blue skies and snowy mountains. Often the burly Bobsleigh guys were out in front, heaving medicine balls around. We had the Russian TV feed in our Medical Clinic, so another fascinating phenomenon was to sit and listen to the Snowboard and Freestyle athletes in there for treatment comment on the various jumps, techniques and style of competitors in the newly added discipline of slopestyle for both sports. They all seem to know each other from other competitions, notably the X-Games, and were equally vociferous in cheering on Canadians and also their friends from other countries whenever they successfully performed a difficult trick.
We were fortunate to not have many injuries or illnesses overall, but perhaps the scariest, most helpless moments were watching the Canada 3 sled of Justin Kripps, Jesse Lumsden, Cody Sorensen and Ben Coakwell flip over coming out of the 11th turn in their penultimate run. We could only watch and wait with bated breaths until the upturned slid to a stop (across the finish line); and hope, that when our orthopedic surgeon (Dr. Dory Boyer) got to the four athletes he would not find any significant injuries. Fortunately they were all able to walk away from the crash, and while two of them were unable to compete the following day (one had whiplash and a shoulder injury and the other a concussion), Justin and Jesse did the final run, and two of the spares (Luke Demetre and Graeme Rinholm) were able, in the end, to finish with an Olympic competitive experience. I sat behind Graeme on the flight home, and he was totally stoked at having had the chance to race, and was already looking forward to Pyeongchang Korea in 2018!
Now I am eagerly looking forward to the Annual Meeting of our organization (CASEM – the Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine) in Quebec City from June 18-22. It is being held in conjunction with FIMS (International Federation of Sports Medicine). I expect to see many friends and colleagues there – physicians and therapists – and will have another chance to reminisce about the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, an extraordinary Games I will not soon forget!
Thanks again Connie! We are looking forward to seeing you soon.
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