Dr. Bert Mandelbaum takes in an empty stadium before the start of the Rio 2016 Olympics.

“It is truly something to walk into the Olympic soccer stadium empty,” says Dr. Bert Mandelbaum, recalling the moment he first arrived in Rio for the 2016 Olympic games. “No fans, no media, no athletes, and no stories, and to imagine what will be different in a few days. Just imagine…” Dr. Mandelbaum was on site as FIFA International Olympics Committee Medical Officer. As competition officially got underway, we asked Dr. Mandelbaum about his experience in Rio and what it means to be part of this worldwide event.

The International Olympic Committee Medical Officer is a distinguished role that plays a vital part in the overall medical assessment for both the men’s and women’s soccer tournament. This includes oversight of prevention protocols, team preparation, illness issues, and injuries, including concussions and doping control. “The difference between my role at the Rio Olympic games and my role with the LA Galaxy is that my role at the Olympics is focused on oversight of all teams participating in the tournament,” explains Dr. Mandelbaum. “As medical director and team doctor for the LA Galaxy, I have direct team responsibility.”

FIFA Medical Chief Dr. Jiri Dvorak and Dr. Bert Mandelbaum measuring the temperature in the stadium.

With the mass media coverage surrounding the Rio Olympics and potential medical challenges athletes may face, we asked Dr. Mandelbaum to share his insight on the conditions and advice for the athletes competing. “My advice is to focus on being an athlete and on the competition itself,” he says. “We are fortunate that it is winter here in Rio and not mosquito season. Additionally, the IOC education program is extensive, and many precautionary measures have been taken to ensure that athletes remain healthy.”

Dr. Mandelbaum at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

At the very first competition he attends, Sweden vs. South Africa, Dr. Mandelbaum describes the palpable excitement in the air. “The stadium is fantastic. There are goals, a whistle, and all the splendor of Olympic competition.” As a veteran physician at many worldwide sporting events, Dr. Mandelbaum knows first-hand that there is nothing quite like these historic games. “Every athlete, coach, staff member, and volunteer feels this rich and intense spirit that attracts each of us to our evolutionary beginnings,” he says. “The Olympic Games are more about the journey than the destination of winning. It is truly a unique experience to be surrounded by people from all over the world who are here to celebrate their individual and collective differences, while they focus on the ultimate competition.”

Of course, for all athletes, the same applies – it’s more about the journey than the destination. Here at Santa Monica Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Group, we will continue to do what we can to help athletes of all levels continue safely on their own journeys.