Although they weren't on the slopes, in the sleds, or on the ice, Hopkins staff nonetheless played a part in the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.
For most of the month of February, many of us fell helplessly under
the spell of a group of young people in the prime of their lives pursuing
a medal dangling from a wide, blue ribbon. Everything was perfect in
Salt Lake City. The fit, eager athletes; the jagged, snow-covered mountains;
even the television coverage was elegant. Yet behind the impossibly
synchronized ceremonies and schedules, it took a network of thousands
to make it all look effortless.
While most of us watched from our living room sofas, 1,800 miles away a handful of Hopkins staff made behind-the-scenes contributions to the 19th Winter Olympiad. Each of them experienced the Games from a different perspective. Here's what they did and what they saw.
It isn't only skiers and skaters who compete to be in the Olympic Games.
Thousands of health care providers clamor to attend to the injuries
and illnesses of the athletes, as well, and a minuscule 1 percent are
selected. Even with no pay, it's a plum assignment.
While some Olympic teams provide medical care for their athletes (the
United States team of 215, for example, brought along a medical staff
of 20), for others the polyclinic-a European term for multispecialty
clinic-is the place to go. Many athletes take advantage of their proximity
to American medicine, having cavities filled, root canals done and glasses
Matters weren't always so pedestrian for Krabak, however, who took
care of musculoskeletal problems. He saw everything from contusions
and strains to torn ligaments and concussions, all in the heat of the
greatest competition of his patients' lives.
"The challenge is trying to diagnose what they have while weighing
the pros and cons of competing with an injury," he explains. "When
the guy with a concussion from a bobsled accident hasn't competed yet,
and you're worried about brain injury, do you let him go ride again?"
Krabak, 34, can appreciate what his patients go through. His sport
of choice is adventure racing, a combination of mountain biking, kayaking,
rappelling, and running trails over a period of 40 hours without sleeping.
When he got to Salt Lake City, he went skiing and tore the anterior
cruciate ligament in his knee.
When Krabak wasn't working one of the seven shifts he was responsible
for during the Games, he took in as much as he could. He stood in awe
at the men's freestyle moguls ("These guys throwing themselves
in the air"), chatted with college students from Russia and Norway
at the nightly concerts, and got tickets for the men's and women's hockey
finals and the closing ceremonies.
"Being in Olympic Plaza, watching the American flag go up, and listening to all these voices screaming the National Anthem when [speedskater] Derek Parra got his gold medal. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
It goes without saying that the federal agency known for its meticulous
planning would have prepared for the flu.
There were some 2,000 Secret Service personnel on hand for the Olympics,
with no time to be sick. Some of them were posted atop mountains in
such remote areas that getting to a hospital would have been futile.
All of them were doing such specialized work in such a high-profile
venue that they couldn't be spared. So the Secret Service brought its
own medical team.
They were physicians from the Johns Hopkins Department of Emergency
By Feb. 4, the group had arrived for its three-week stint. Each Hopkins
physician was paired with a Secret Service paramedic to form four teams.
In addition to Tang, they were attending physician Horace Liang, third-year
resident Mark Dogoli and two second-year residents, Ron Elfenbein and
"We were not a 911 service," explains Tang. "Our job
was to be there for urgent and less urgent medical concerns, to shorten
the course of illness and initiate therapy as early as possible. Our
goal was to keep these people at their posts."
Although this was Hopkins' biggest assignment with the Secret Service,
it wasn't the first. Three years ago, the Emergency Services office
of the Secret Service approached Hopkins about a collaboration. The
agency needed help with training, credentialing and continuing education
for its nearly 100 EMS personnel. Hopkins obliged. Tang was named the
Hopkins physicians also provide medical support to the Secret Service
on overseas missions, and have made more than 20 trips to Africa, South
America and Southeast Asia. "We send a physician along when the
protectee is traveling to a place with inadequate local [medical] resources
or when the mission is particularly high-risk," says Tang. "We've
traveled to some unbelievable places."
Tang was hoping for a domestic assignment like the Olympics, a declared
"national security special event" (like the Super Bowl) where
the Secret Service takes charge of security. "I was sure we could
offer a significant service," he says. "I just wanted to get
out there and prove it."
The teams were supposed to work 12-hour shifts, but often worked much
longer. They were always on call. A lot of their time was spent on the
road, traveling to treat patients in their territory-more than 900 square
miles of northern Utah. In addition to the Secret Service, they also
aided many other law-enforcement agencies-the Customs Service, the Marshals
Service, the Border Patrol. By the end of three weeks, they had treated
upper-respiratory infections, sinus problems (because of the altitude),
orthopedic injuries and even dental complaints for nearly 400 people.
Tang also considered part of his job to be preventive medicine. When
too many agents were getting sick in the 20-below temperatures on mountain
tops, he and his partner drove two hours to deliver 140 space heaters
to those standing post. He advocated for his patients to be moved out
of suboptimal hotel rooms when the living conditions weren't helping
them get well.
For Tang, the number of patients alone was enough to justify Hopkins' involvement. "There was a tremendous need that we filled," he says. "We had agents stop in every day to thank us for being there. It made a big impression. That's probably what most of us will carry away. Just this feeling of really being able to help some folks."
Admittedly, the medical teams didn't see much of the Olympics. Tang
saw about an hour of the Opening Ceremony before he had to leave to
treat a patient. "Logistically, we were very isolated," he
But he doesn't reveal even a twinge of resentment. "This was tremendously
fun for me," he says. "This was bringing medicine to the front
lines, treating on the go. At Hopkins, we're used to patients coming
to us. We're sometimes rigid about our practice. This was a great educational
opportunity for our folks, because it forced us to realize there were
much larger operational concerns at hand. It was humbling."
View from the Stands
J.P. Shilling comes by his skater's legs honestly. His mother, Joan
Clark, was a competitive figure skater in her youth. Then, after a lapse
of many years, she tried speedskating. She started competing when she
was 40, and by the time she retired from competition in 1996, Clark,
who even today has a trim and powerful-looking body, was the national
champion in her age group for both short-track and long-track speedskating.
"I was successful because there's not that many old women who
do this," says Clark, faculty and academic affairs coordinator
For most of Clark's second career on the ice, she was only at Baltimore's
Northwest Ice Rink because of her son. J.P. started skating at age 6.
In 1980, after watching Eric Heiden win five gold medals in speedskating,
Shilling announced that one day he would skate in the Olympics, too.
He got through his teen years without dropping out of the sport, which
his mother had half-expected. After high school, he was accepted at
the Olympic Educational Training Center at Northern Michigan University,
where students go to school for half the year, then compete for the
other half. In 1995, Shilling made a world team for the first time.
When Joan Clark arrived in Salt Lake, she hardly saw her son before
his event. At the Opening Ceremony, Clark couldn't find him in the parade
of athletes, but later found out that relatives back home saw him clearly
On the day of the 1,500-meter race, Clark watched tensely from the
stands, with the same feelings she's had since her son was a small boy.
"It's so helpless being the parent," she says, "just
wanting them to do the best they can do."
A skater must attack the 1,500, which is described as an "endurance
sprint," and Shilling did just that. He skated at a world-record
pace until the last lap. But in the end, the American speedskater Derek
Parra took the gold, and Shilling finished 14th out of a field of 48.
At one minute, 46.29 seconds, he was just two seconds off the winning
Shilling was happy with his performance, which was a personal record
for him. Afterwards, he posed with Eric Heiden, now an orthopedic surgeon
and the team's doctor. Exhausted, Clark and her husband went to bed
that night at 9:30. "We felt like we'd been beaten by sticks, we
were so emotionally worn out."
Clark watched the Closing Ceremony from home, and admits to feeling
melancholy. Her son has three more world meets before he'll come home
at the end of April. Then Shilling is hanging up his skates. "This
was his last try," says Clark. "He's tired."
Back home, Clark and her husband viewed the video that J.P. took at
the Opening Ceremony. "The pictures were lousy," she says.
"You could tell he kept forgetting to turn it off. But you could
hear all these voices, and you could hear their excitement. It made
-Mary Ellen Miller