September 01, 2014
Behind the Scenes at the Olympics
Be Well

Behind the Scenes at the Olympics

by Keng Lam  |  

Just before this year’s winter Olympics began in Sochi, Russia, I talked with Cindy Chang, M.D.—who served as the U.S. chief medical officer for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London and the Summer Paralympic Games in Beijing in 2008—about her Olympic memories and what we might expect to see in Sochi based on her previous experiences.

"Serving as the chief medical officer for my country for both the Paralympic and Olympic athletes was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and filled with memories and friendships that will last forever,” said Dr. Chang, former president of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine and the head team physician for UC Berkeley’s athletic teams from 1995 through 2008. “What impressed me most about the athletes was their ability to stay focused despite the busyness and excitement.”

Here are six other interesting Olympics tidbits from Dr. Chang, who is currently a sports medicine specialist at UC Berkeley and a member of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter Editorial Board.

  • Team USA brings its own medications. “We don’t rely on the host country,” said Chang. The team travels with the needed medicine because the athletes are more comfortable with their own country’s medications.
  • The most common item the Olympic Village pharmacy dispenses is…condoms. I would have guessed that medications to aid with cold symptoms or pain would be the most frequently requested. But I was wrong. At least the athletes play it safe.
  • The Winter Games are more hazardous for athletes than the Summer Games. “For the winter Olympics, many of the events—such as snowboarding and skiing, due to the high elevation tricks and high rates of speeds—carry higher risks of injuries,” explained Dr. Chang.
  • Besides injuries, the most common illnesses are typically…respiratory infections. But the doctors are always ready to treat almost any type of medical concern that arises. “Dermatological issues also come up,” said Dr. Chang. “At least one athlete from the London games had a very itchy dermatitis from bed bugs.”
  • For some athletes, the Olympics are their opportunity to take care of doctor’s appointments. Many athletes, especially the ones from the developing countries—which are unable to bring their own medical teams along—get better health care in the host country than at home. Have cavities? No problem. The host country has dentists to take care of that!
  • There is great diversity in the USA medical team. Health care professionals range from sports medicine physicians (who have primary care specialty training and sports medicine training) to orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists and athletic trainers. Chiropractors and massage therapists are also on hand in case the athletes want to take advantage of their services!