Oct 28, 2016Rio Reflections
Heading into the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, preparation was diligent and coordinated better than ever before for the USA Men’s Gymnastics Team. As the athletes trained, competed, and recovered, the USA Gymnastics sports medicine staff assisted them every step of the way.
My role as the Staff Athletic Trainer for the men’s gymnastics team started before we even left the U.S. Normally, the duties of an high school or college athletic trainer come into play every day. However, before the Games, my contact with the athletes was limited to the times we spent in the gym at qualifying competitions or training camps when the whole national team came together. For most of the athletes’ journeys through USA National Championships, Olympic Trials, and their pre-Olympic team camp, everyone was practicing and training in their own way. They would come together to compete, make the team, and then head back to their home gyms to train.
As a result, I had to stay hands-on with their treatments, preparations, and any setbacks or injuries that came about through e-mails and videos. That was one of the main challenges in the run-up to Rio.
Once the Rio Games got closer, I had to educate the men’s gymnastics athletes about the Zika virus, as well as plan out any nutrition or supplement adjustments, such as adding a probiotic to their diets to prepare them for any sickness. I worked in conjunction with our Team Physician, David Kruse, MD, who also informed and advised the athletes in preparation for the Games.
Our days were a constant regimen of eating, training, treating, competing, and resting… The athletes did not have a day off training for over a month, so they often took advantage of recovering whenever possible, and we limited walking and extra trips outside of Olympic Village.
While in Rio, our USA Gymnastics sports medicine staff worked directly with the U.S. Olympic Committee sports medicine staff in order to provide everything our athletes needed to be their best mentally and physically. This meant bringing our own Game Ready, NormaTec Compression Systems, taping supplies, over-the-counter medications, and any sport-specific medical requirements. The Olympic Village was unique in that everything was the “USA” way, and we were very fortunate to have medical setup in our building.
During the Games, the men’s gymnastics team was easy to work with. Our days were a constant regimen of eating, training, treating, competing, and resting. A typical day consisted of treatments before a light workout in the morning and then treatments before and after a more substantial workout with skills and routine sets in the afternoon. Competition days were lighter days in a sense, with just one trip over to the gym to compete. The athletes did not have a day off training for over a month, so they often took advantage of recovering whenever possible, and we limited walking and extra trips outside of Olympic Village.
A challenge for me was to figure out how to keep the athletes at their best and not go over the fine line of being detrimental to their bodies as they strived for peak condition. There were several injuries along the way, so setting up good treatment plans and communicating with the athletes as they prepared for each competition was crucial.
Another challenge was getting athletes on the same training plan and setting up treatments and rehabilitation time based on their personal needs. Because our athletes don’t all train together prior to the Games, I had to try and provide the best care possible and continue the treatment they had been receiving before Rio for consistency purposes and best practices. I had to be knowledgeable and capable to implement everything that they required as far as maintenance and treatment.
Overall, working with the USA Men’s Gymnastics Team in Rio was an exceptional experience and a true reminder that the athlete is the center of the Olympic Games. Every member on our men’s team was very disciplined and unwavering in their commitment to do their best. It takes a lot of preparation in order to deal with the high-level athletic demands, but it’s worth it if they reach their goals and/or have the best opportunity to be at their peak during the Olympics.