One might say that the Olympics are a passion for Dr. Connie Lebrun, currently from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She will be heading off in February for a month in Sochi, Russia, as the Chief Doctor for the Canadian Olympic Team, which will comprise approximately 600 people, including 217 athletes, and roughly 150 each Support Staff and Mission Team members. The Health and Science Team (HST) will be comprised of about 10 Core Team members, complemented by more than 50 other health care practitioners, including nutritionists, exercise physiologists and mental performance consultants. The Canadian Olympic Team will be looking to repeat or better its performance in Vancouver 2010, where athletes won a total of 26 medals, (including 14 gold), and came in third overall, behind USA (37) and Germany (30).
Dr. Lebrun is a Professor in the Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, at the University of Alberta, and a consultant sport medicine physician at the Glen Sather Sports Medicine Clinic there. In addition to her involvement in the Canadian Academy of Sports and Exercise Medicine, she is a charter member of AMSSM and has attended a majority of the Annual Meetings, including the inaugural one. In 2008, she received the AMSSM Founders’ Award, which recognizes excellence in sports medicine – in both professional achievement and community service. She is also a longtime member of the American College of Sports Medicine, and is active on several committees, including the Olympic and Paralympic sports medicine issues committee. She was a Vice-President (Medicine) from 2001- 2003, and in 2010, received an ACSM Citation Award. Her Olympic experiences date well back to the time that she was competing on the Canadian National Volleyball team – from 1973-1977, including participation in the 1975 Pan American Games, and the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
Her first Olympics as a team physician was in Atlanta in 1996. Over the past 25 years, she has been part of the Canadian Medical Team for numerous international Games. These include three other Summer Olympics – Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, where she was Assistant Chief Medical Officer (CMO). For Torino in 2006, she was assigned to cover snowboarding. Subsequently, she became part of their integrated support team (IST), as Medical Director, and went to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics as a designated National Sport Federation (NSF) practitioner with Snowboarding.
“Our model for medical care at the Olympics has changed substantially over this time,” she said. “Previously, most of the medical team was selected about a year and a half out, and then each of us was assigned to cover a number of different sports. We then made great efforts to attend training camps and/or competitions for these sports, to get to know the athletes and coaches before the actual Games. Now, however, the sports work with their same IST over the entire quadrennial, to ensure maximal sports medicine and sports science support, with “no new faces” at the Olympics.”
Dr. Lebrun adds, “We have also changed our organizational structure somewhat. The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) has a Medical Director (Dr. Bob McCormack – an orthopedic surgeon from Vancouver, who was also CMO for 2006, 2008 and 2010). He now provides continuity between Games, and is the official spokesperson for the COC with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA). For each individual Games, a Chief Doctor and Chief Therapist are selected – to oversee all of the logistics pertaining to that specific Games.”
As do most countries, the Canadian Team will set up Medical Clinics in their own quarters in both the Coastal and Mountain Villages. “Even though naturally the Olympics is all about competition, there is usually a nice camaraderie amongst the medical teams from the different countries,” Dr. Lebrun said. “In fact, it is Canadian tradition to host a “medical mixer” at some point during the Games.” The Core Medical Team and Mission Staff have already made several trips to Sochi to see the layout of the competition sites (which are all finished) and the Villages (which were still under construction at the time of the last visit). However, she was still able to don a hard-hat to visit the buildings that she will be housed in, including the spaces where the Medical Clinics and Administration will be located.
Although the host country always provides services through a polyclinic in each location, the aim is usually to be as self-sufficient as possible. Supplies and equipment have already been ordered, and are currently en route to Sochi by sea, while the medication order is being finalized for shipment by air in early December. Because of uncertainty about exactly what might be available locally, especially for any unforeseen emergencies, it is necessary to think about all possibilities. “For example, we are encouraging everybody to be sure that their vaccinations (including measles) are up to date and to consider taking Dukoral – an oral vaccination to help prevent traveler’s diarrhea, as Eastern Europe is in a moderate risk zone,” Dr. Lebrun said.
For Sochi 2014, most of the Canadian practitioners will come with their NSF, and their priority will obviously be attending training and competition for their own sport. This presents a bit of a challenge for scheduling and coverage of the Canadian Medical Clinic, as it is traditionally open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., however, they have had several gatherings of the entire group, where it has already been discussed.
Dr. Lebrun will be primarily stationed in the Mountain Cluster, with many of her favorite snow sports, and she is eagerly looking forward to it. “It is always a tremendous learning experience– to be working together in a multidisciplinary team, to provide optimal care to our athletes. I never get tired of it!”