Case Study 6 - Preparing for Glasgow 2014 at London 2012
As athletes make their final preparations for competing in London, a number of staff within the expert multidisciplinary team at the sportscotland institute of sport will also play an active role with Team GB in the Olympic Village and / or at the Team GB Holding Camp at Loughborough.
They include exercise physiologist Helen Alfano, Deputy Head of Sports Medicine, Dr Niall Elliott and his colleague Fiona Mather, Head of Physiotherapy.
All are proud to have been selected to be part of the Team GB Olympic support team. However, their involvement in London is also part of a strategy to ensure these experts gain insights and knowledge that will be invaluable to organisers of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Indeed, while Dr Niall Elliott and Fiona Mather will respectively be one of seven doctors and eight physiotherapists applying their expertise with Team GB within the Olympic Village, 27 year-old Helen Alfano won’t be working in her professional role at the BOA Holding Camp in Loughborough. As the Kirkcaldy born sport scientist explained: “My role within the (sportscotland) institute is to work with coaches and athletes, using science to optimise performance. For example, I may use VO2 Max testing to monitor an athlete’s progression or test the blood lactate levels of GB judo athletes to assess their response to intensity of sessions.
“My involvement with the London Olympics will be far removed from my day job! For while prior to the 2008 Paralympic Games I was part of the sport science team at the Team GB holding camp in Macau, on this occasion I will be working for three weeks in an operational capacity at the BOA Holding Camp in Loughborough. This will involve making sure everything an athlete and coach requires at their training venue is in place – for example food and transport. Personally, it will be a fabulous opportunity to broaden my knowledge and understanding of what is required to run a Holding Camp. Hopefully, this will enable me to return to Scotland with a huge bank of knowledge – all of which can usefully be applied by organisers in Glasgow.”
Her colleague, Fiona Mather, has applied her expertise in physiotherapy at the sportscotland institute of sport since 2003. A specialist in sports injury rehabilitation since 1997, she previously worked for Scottish Rugby and Glasgow Warriors. This summer, she will be applying almost 20 years of experience in physiotherapy to support athletes going for gold in London. “I will be part of a team supporting those sports within Team GB who don’t have accredited physiotherapists in place – while also providing additional support to the wider team and venues,” explained Fiona who has worked at several Youth Olympics.
“I feel very privileged to be part of the Olympic experience, supporting athletes at what is the potential pinnacle of their careers. We are there, in a very special environment, to help the athlete maintain their best possible physical and mental state prior to competition. The challenge for us is to ensure we leave no stone unturned in helping the athletes compete at their best.”
And Fiona believes the London experience will offer important insights and lessons for Glasgow in 2014. “Working at these ‘home’ Olympics will allow us to look at operational procedures and to plan effectively for various scenarios. As both London and Glasgow will be ‘home’ Games, there will be enormous media interest that will potentially affect athletes in different ways. So part of our role will be to help the athletes turn that perceived pressure into a positive and not a distraction. From insights gained at the Olympics, we should be able to identify, plan and discuss with athletes well in advance of the Commonwealth Games, how we will respond to various scenarios that could affect their performance.”
University of Dundee trained and qualified, Dr Niall Elliott will be joining Fiona Mather in the Olympic Village, applying his medical expertise to ensure athletes are in optimal health to aim for the podium. And though Niall points out that the risk of contracting the likes of Travellers’ Diarrhoea (‘Delhi-belly’), a gastro-intestinal infection that exercised the minds of the medical team prior to the 2010 Commonwealth Games, is less likely at these ‘home’ Games, he advises there are a host of wide-ranging factors that could adversely impact on the health of athletes.
Indeed, whether it’s encouraging athletes to be vigilant with their hand-washing to minimise the risk of transmitting infection by the hand to mouth route or working with fellow clinicians to identify athletes susceptible to allergens from flora within the Olympic Village, every day will provide Niall with potentially invaluable lessons that can be applied to helping Scottish athletes prepare for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
There’s an old adage – you need to plan to win. For Glasgow 2014, that process will be well underway as experts from the sportscotland institute of sport apply themselves at the London 2012 Olympic Games.