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Lessons Learned from Tokyo and Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games Focus on Infectious Disease Control, Psychological Support Systems and In-Field Injury Treatment

“Fireside Chat II” on Day 2 of 6th Annual Injury Prevention Symposium Sponsored by Steadman Philippon Research Institute and USOPC Features Dr. Amber Donaldson, Dr. Tom Hackett and Dr. Stu Willet

April 28, 2022

VAIL/COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. – The 6th Annual Injury Prevention Symposium, jointly hosted by Steadman Philippon Research Institute (SPRI) and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), now in its third year as a completely virtual presentation and delivered live to a variety of sports medicine clinicians including physicians, scientists, athletic trainers, physical therapists, chiropractors and other health practitioners around the globe, continued its two-day run with a “Fireside Chat” on the lessons learned from the Beijing and Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Tom Hackett, MD, of The Steadman Clinic, Stu Willet, MD, of the University of Utah and Amber Donaldson, DPT, who serves as Vice President of sports medicine at the USOPC, offered their key takeaways in a session moderated by Grant Dornan, director of the Center for Outcomes-Based Orthopaedic Research at SPRI.

All three agreed that while COVID-19 protocols presented serious challenges for the athletes and staff in both Tokyo and Beijing, limiting the spread of disease is an effort that will continue at future Olympics.

“Infection mitigation steps taken worked, including extensive testing, use of masks physical distancing and hand washing,” said Dr. Donaldson. “We had very little illness. I know that these steps are not popular, but they worked so. we'll see how that looks at future Games.”

Dr. Willet took it a step further. “Infectious disease control and psychological support services have been a part of the Games for the organizing committees for at least two to three decades. That got taken to a whole new level with these past two Games, and that's going to be a good thing moving forward. I wouldn't be surprised if moving forward the IOC mandated that the Organizing Committee have ready, and hopefully not have to use, quarantine and isolation facilities.”

Dr. Hackett saw advantages well beyond COVID-19. “At the Olympic Games, you're taking tens of thousands of people and jamming them together in the same places—food halls, dormitories…trains, buses, planes,” said Dr. Hackett “So, anything that you can do to minimize disease transmission (helps), even things like norovirus. That awareness was phenomenal and having been at several other Olympic Games, I've seen where—whether it's a common cold or something more serious—has run rampant amongst the volunteers at the games, let alone the athletes. That's something really positive that's going to come out of these two Games.”

While another session at the Injury Prevention Summit focused specifically on mental health, the focus on psychological services in Tokyo and Beijing was another theme during this session.

“We introduced our team to mental health officers in Tokyo, which was perfect timing,” said Dr. Donaldson. “We had a psychiatrist and clinical psychologist in all four of the Games (Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo and Beijing), and they were critical, and probably the busiest on our team. They helped to manage a fair number of crises, as well as (provide) additional support that came up and issues that happened both with staff and athletes.”

Dr. Willet and Dr. Donaldson also pointed to improved communication as an important lesson learned. “The COVID situation demanded more communication, better and closer communication between the Organizing Committee and the National Olympic and Paralympic committees,” said Dr. Willet. “This is in part a technological advance, but during these Games, because there wasn’t travel, there was far more communication virtually—that type of communication will continue moving forward.”

“Overall, our collaboration with the National Governing Bodies (NGB) and USOPC was better than it had been before,” said Dr. Donaldson. “We just had to rely on each other to get through this, get the information, and share and collaborate. That resulted in a better Games, hopefully for everyone involved.”

Dr. Hackett, who was in Beijing as a member of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Medical Committee and Team Physician for the U.S. Snowboard team, points to a key positive takeaway in the treatment of injuries.

“In-field management has consistently been a challenge at the Olympic Games,” Dr. Hackett said. “We were very fortunate (in Beijing) that they shipped in ski patrollers from Canada, all the ski patrol were Canadian, from Whistler. They were extremely experienced, very knowledgeable, solid individuals. That was a tremendous help to us to know that they were there, and we interfaced a fair amount together to get an athlete from the field to the Beijing crew at the bottom of the mountain. That transition in the past has been extremely challenging and dicey, and in this case, with the patrollers that were there—who had been there by the way for years laying down groundwork ahead of time—that was a tremendous asset to us.”

While all three participants discussed several challenges—including going through COVID-19 quarantine and cultural and language barriers in Tokyo and Beijing—their own inconveniences were minimized.

As Dr. Hackett summarized, “it’s all about the athletes.”

For further information, contact Lynda Sampson, VP External Affairs (lsampson@sprivail.org, 970/479-1563)

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