Working as a Sports Medicine Podiatrist at the Olympics

Featured in the AAPAM Newsletter 1996

I truly experienced more than I anticipated. As I have told my story countless times to my friends and patients, I realize each time what a spectacular event I witnessed and actively took part in.

The Podiatrists were stationed at the main medical clinic, the “polyclinic” of the Olympic Village where the more than 10,000 athletes and officials lived during their stay in Atlanta.

Working in the Polyclinic was interesting as well as fun. I feel we had a good relationship with the other physicians as well as the nursing and support staff. I was very fortunate to be able to meet and work with such well-trained Podiatrists with such varied backgrounds.

I felt that the clinic was well staffed and stocked. The housekeeping staff kept our clinic very clean and every day we had freshly sterilized instruments to use. We had a great selection of podiatry supplies to use as well. These supplies were donated to us by two or three main podiatry suppliers. We had different types of pre-fabricated orthotic systems and numerous types of accommodations to work with to accommodate the injury and patient.

Because this was the first time Podiatrists were being utilized, our role as part of the Olympic medical staff was probably a little uncertain to many of the staff and medical doctors. Triaging the proper injuries was an area that got off to a shaky start, but as our relationship strengthened with the rest of the clinic staff the triaging also improved. We had some statistics to work with from the Barcelona games so we were anxious to see who would come walking or limping in. We, of course, were interested in the good stuff, and to our surprise we got it!

There were some interesting cases One Chinese wrestler came in with an acute gout attack, which surprised me due to his age. The change of diet and the availability of lots of hamburgers may be the culprit. I was able to help the only Cape Verde athlete – who suffered an Achilles tendon rupture – walk in the opening ceremonies, as well as show up on the starting line in the name of pride. Many of the African athletes came into the clinic. One African in particular had been running on a nonunion fracture in the base of the second Metatarsal for a year.

Although most of the American athletes did not stay in the Village, there were plenty other athletes to treat. We saw quite a few of the 196 other countries’ athletes. I personally treated athletes from Egypt, Malta, China, Ecuador, Salvador, Australia and Cape Verde just to name a few.

Because of the supplies we had available I was able to accommodate many athletes in many different sports with orthotics and padding. Treating sprinters and other runners was at times challenging, due to shoe-gear and the urgency to get them back fast.

In addition to treating the athletes, which was my main purpose for going down to Atlanta, my badge allowed me the freedom to go and explore the Olympic village. I truly enjoyed all the many sights and sounds. The village amazed me. There were five movie theaters going; concerts all day long; jugglers and magicians were always around. There was a full scale health club, which I took advantage of using. I can’t explain to you what running next to an Olympic athlete does to your usual three-mile run! There was a department store, cleaners, hair salon, florist, post office, bowling alley with pool area, a tent with laser tag and every possible pinball and videogame imaginable. The athletes could surf the net, make phone calls from a comfortable calling room, or their hand at the visual activity office. Temporary tattoos were the rage. I am sorry I didn’t get one, but the line was too long.

I also was able to enjoy the city of Atlanta. Contrary to what the media wanted you to believe, Atlanta was beautiful, every street was impeccably clean, the police were everywhere; streets were blocked so pedestrians could enjoy walking. I was so impressed with the Centennial Olympic park, especially at night when the city really glowed. I experienced no problems or delays with the Marta system, and felt that the city had everything well organized. It was truly a shame that someone tried to ruin our good time.

As I settle back into my practice once again and the hoopla is finally subsiding, I look back and realize what a great experience I was able to be a part of.

Thanks for letting me share my experience with all of you.