US Olympic Team Doc: Challenges and Advice for Athletes

Carol Peckham; Gloria M. Beim, MD


February 03, 2014

In This Article

Editor's Note:
Gloria Beim, MD, is Team USA Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. This is the third Olympics she has served in and her first as CMO. She was the team physician for cycling and taekwondo in the Athens 2004 Summer Olympics and was venue medical director and team physician for Team USA at the London Summer Olympics in 2012. Dr. Beim, founder of Alpine Orthopaedics, serves patients in Gunnison, Crested Butte, and Telluride, Colorado. She is also an author, most recently of The Female Athlete's Body Book: How to Prevent and Treat Sports Injuries in Women and Girls.[1] Dr. Beim has been studying Russian in anticipation of the Games.

Gloria M. Beim, MD

Medscape: I understand you've learned Russian. Do you expect to use it?

Dr. Beim: February 28, 2013, is the day I found out I was going to the Olympics. The only word in Russian that I knew up until then was dasvidaniya, which I learned when I was watching the movie Anastasia with my kids. I started studying Russian the next day and have been studying for almost a year now. I know it is going to come in handy. In the unlikely event that one of our athletes must be treated in a hospital, I will be able to talk to the doctors and nurses. Even if we have a volunteer, I want to be the one communicating and interacting with those docs.

In 2013 when I went over there, I started speaking with some of the locals just because I was so excited to speak, and their eyes would light up and they would smile. Some people say that Russians don't smile; that's not true. When you show them some kindness and some interest in their culture and language, they open up. One lady was so excited that I was learning the language that she invited me for a "snack." I showed up, and she had cooked a 7-course meal.

Medscape: I read that respiratory diseases are very common among Olympic athletes, particularly during the Winter Games. How do you deal with such illnesses, and where do you draw the line and tell them to withdraw?

Dr. Beim: A respiratory illness would have to be very severe for us to recommend that an athlete withdraw. Fortunately, I have not had to treat any serious cases at the Games. In fact, in all the Games I have been to, I cannot recall anybody who has been withdrawn because of a respiratory illness. We get colds or an occasional mild flu that someone may have gotten during their travels. We usually just treat these people symptomatically. Even with these illnesses, however, I have to follow the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) list of substances that we are allowed and not allowed to use.

Medscape: Are there any respiratory illnesses that would cause you to pull an athlete out of the Games?

Dr. Beim: I can see pulling somebody out who had a traumatic pneumothorax or if his or her ability to compete was totally compromised because of a respiratory illness. However, whenever anyone is considering or being considered for competition withdrawal, we would have a discussion with a significant number of people -- the athlete, the coach, the team doctor, the medical director, and the CMO of the team. I don't just say, "You're out." It doesn't work that way. And it would have to be life-threatening. They train their whole lives to be at the Olympic Games, and having a bad cold is not a reason they would withdraw for.


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