Caring for the U.S. Olympic Swim Team

On July 27, the 2012 London Olympic Games opened. The first day of competition, July 28, featured swimming, which is always one of the highlights of the Olympic Games. I am with the U.S. team as a team physician. It is a true honor to work with America's top athletes, especially as they have dedicated years to training for this opportunity. My job is to help keep the athletes - and all involved, from coaches to managers and other staff - healthy.

Common Issues We Treat

At the Olympic Games, the team physician treats both musculoskeletal injuries as well as medical illnesses. Common musculoskeletal problems include shoulder pain, low back muscle strain, and patellar (knee cap) pain. Common medical illnesses include upper respiratory tract infections, coughing, sore throats, and gastroenteritis. Other issues that we address include jet lag, adjusting to new foods, dehydration, and problems with sleep.

Swimming in new pools with varying water quality and chemicals can lead to sinusitis and other upper respiratory symptoms. The stress of travel and international competition can also lead to temporary alterations in immune function and result in some of these illnesses. The team physician’s job is to anticipate and treat all of these issues in a timely fashion.

Preparing for the Games

Athletes become successful with intense preparation; similarly, the success of the sports medicine team is also based on thorough preparation. We've started by assembling a team that includes a physician, a certified athletic trainer, and massage therapists. We've traveled with a comprehensive supply of medications, physical therapy equipment (including ultrasound, electrical stimulation units, etc.), massage tables, and other supplies.

Our preparation for the London Games started well over one year ago. We identified our staff members and communicated frequently as we planed for the Games. I stocked our medical bag and our trainers arranged for all of their supplies. The medical bag contains supplies for the treatment of all sorts of medical problems, ranging from colds, cough, and sinusitis, to suture supplies and splints for other injuries. Local medical contacts were arranged in the event of any emergency, both in London as well as at the site of the domestic training camp (Knoxville, Tenn) and the overseas training camp (Vichy, France).

The U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials took place June 25-July 2, so we were busy reviewing the athletes’ medical histories as the team was assembled. I review each athlete’s medical history, any medications that they take, and speak to their local physicians as needed.

At the Games

Once in London, all members of the U.S. team stay in the Olympic Village, where a medicine clinic is available to all members of the U.S. delegation; all of the U.S. team physicians provide coverage in this clinic. We have a comprehensive staff of physicians (trained in both orthopedic surgery and internal medicine), athletic trainers, physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and a pharmacist as part of the overall U.S. sports medicine team. In addition to covering the pool swimming team, I cover diving, synchronized swimming, and open water swimming. When I am not covering these sports, I am staffing the clinic in the Olympic Village or otherwise assisting other sports and athletes until the end of the Games, which conclude on August 12.

Providing the Best Care to Our Athletes

The opportunity to serve America’s athletes truly is an honor and a privilege. The Olympic Games is a unique and special event; I have been fortunate to have served in this role at the 2004 Athens Games and the 2008 Beijing Games. I have learned a lot from those experiences, and I hope to use that knowledge and experience to provide the highest level of care to our team in London.

Follow HSS's U.S. Olympic Team Physicians, Scott Rodeo, MD, and John Cavanaugh, PT, as they report on their experiences at the 2012 London Olympic Games. View Olympic coverage on the HSS blog.


Scott Rodeo, MD
Attending Orthopedic Surgeon, Hospital for Special Surgery
Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Weill Cornell Medical College

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