Mountain medicine | Australian Olympic Committee

Mountain medicine

Author imageAOC20 Feb 2014
Mountain medicine

SOCHI 2014: While Australia's Team Doctor Peter Braun has put in countless hours of preparation during the 12 months leading up to the Games, he actually hopes in a peculiar way that most of his plans and procedures will not see the light of day in Sochi.

SOCHI 2014: While Australia's Team Doctor Peter Braun has put in countless hours of preparation during the 12 months leading up to the Games, he actually hopes in a peculiar way that most of his plans and procedures will not see the light of day in Sochi.

The reason is of course is that a great deal of his diligence and meticulous planning to get to the point of creating three 'pop-up' medical clinics in various locations in Sochi's competition clusters is targeted at the unpredictable side of his role - injury treatment.

The other aspect of his vitally important role is preventative medicine, which is all about being able to predict and act on medical requirements well ahead of time. 

It goes without saying that medical treatment in winter sports, many of which have an element of risk, is crucial to Australia's medal hopes and performances. 

Some may say that Dr Braun and his team of Dr Larissa Trease, nine physiotherapists and two sports psychologists are the 'mechanics' that keep the 'engines' running at peak revs throughout the Games.

Just like the athletes Dr Braun and his team take care of, preparation is the linchpin to their productivity, efficiency and performance.

And for Dr Braun, his preparation revolves around not just medical expertise but also business acumen encompassing a number of skills. 

Without his integral logistical planning and management, the three stand-alone clinics could not have been set up in such a short time and operate as effectively as they do. His approach is straight forward.

"First of all I need to make sure we have a good team," Dr Braun said.

"We are very fortunate with the quality and the quantity of the team. We could not ask for a better qualified or dedicated group of people who have an interest and experience in winter sports."

His daily administrative tasks are equal to running a normal full-time medical practice in Australia.

It is essential to schedule medical staff to be on hand, with one, and sometimes two, of his 13 staff members at every training and competition session.

The third stream of Dr Braun's role is with the provision of medical supplies and equipment, and that has been substantial.

He said that pharmaceutical supplies in each of the pop-up clinics are more comprehensive than the offerings of the Sochi Polyclinic Pharmacy.

In supporting the benefits from preventative medicine, Doctors Braun and Trease gather complete medical histories on each athlete, coach and official, covering aspects including past medical requirements, allergies and medications.

They then spend hours analysing needs and putting plans in place to be a step ahead of the game with medical requirements.

This stage is then followed up with medical briefings to the shadow team members nine months out and then on arrival to ensure that the preparation is complete.

The psychologists work directly with the athletes. In some instances the relationships are existing and in other cases the psychologists work with new athletes who have not sought consultation in the past.

Dr Braun said that the psychologists, Ferry Lee and Barbara Meyer, are on call for things such as athletes who cannot sleep, athletes experiencing unusual stress before a competition, advice on fine tuning performance skills, or conflict resolution.

Dr Braun, who is attending his sixth Winter Games, revels in the Olympic environment.

"I like the intensity and the excitement of the whole event and everything that goes with it," Dr Braun said.

After a 24-year association with the Australian Winter Olympic Team, Dr Braun is pleasantly amazed by the amount of improvement that the medical services have undergone, so much so, that he cannot compare the current day with his first Games in 1992.

"It was completely amateurish. My first Games was in 1992 in Albertville (France), I was the doctor for the freestyle section but I wasn't as well prepared with the gear that I took.

"I would basically take it day-by-day. There was not a lot of forward planning. There were no medical screenings.

"It was basically what I thought about throwing in my back-pack to take to competition or training and then there was no responsibility for the rest of the team.

"The rest of the team had no doctors until '98 when we had a person, which was me, with half a medical role. So I was half doctor and half athlete services at that one."

The massive transformation from 1998 to now has been masterminded by Dr Braun, who is constantly reviewing procedures and always looking to move the medical team forward with improved standards of service and expertise.  Now with Dr Larissa Trease on board, the rate of progress will increase yet again.

One example is linked with the adage 'necessity is the mother of invention'.

Ice baths are these days an important post-training, post-event stage of an athlete's recovery process.

Rather than spend big rubles on purchasing an ice bath and transporting it to Russia, Dr Braun has repurposed a 'wheelie bin' and matched plumbing fittings he saw on a towel rail within the Athletes' Village to create the perfect ice bath for our athletes. 

The ice bath is merely hooked up to a bathroom tap within the clinic, which provides water immediately cold enough to perform the recovery treatment.

Another important consideration he faces is the selection of his team, and according to Dr Braun they do "the hard yards during the quadrennial, working and travelling with the athletes and the teams".

"Essentially they get rewarded by getting to come to the Games," he said.

"Sometimes coming to the Games is their motivation and sometimes they're in it for the long haul and they want to look after the athletes from one Games to another.

"Luckily we have a lot people like that. They like the whole experience."

Although most of what the medical team does is unpredictable, he says, with a grin, that the busiest time is "probably from when we arrive to when we get on the plane to go home.

"At the beginning it's all the screenings, the catching up, scheduling, athlete briefings and then you're into the events and hopefully you go from event to event, dealing with little things as they come up.

"Sometimes it is major things but let's hope not."

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