For athletes who had been training tirelessly in hope of competing at the delayed Tokyo Olympics, Paralympics or the Beijing Winter Olympics, it’s fair to say the pandemic threw a spanner in the works.
As COVID-19 case numbers globally continued to grow, the concept of compacting thousands of people to mix and mingle across a hosts of arenas seemed near impossible, or at very least exceedingly risky.
"The goal is always to be two steps ahead" is how AUSMAT Public Health Physician Dr Nick Walsh explained the process of planning remote medical support for the pinnacle events in the international sporting calendar.
The planning involved to protect Australian athletes required immense groundwork from the Australian Olympic Team (AOC) with Dr Nick Walsh coordinating AUSMAT's COVID-19 support from NCCTRC Headquarters in Darwin Northern Territory, and additional support from the Australian Institute of Sport.
“Our focus was on supporting the AOC’s plans by evaluating and mitigating any risk of [COVID-19] transmission for the athletes, and this meant fully understanding every environment they moved through,” he said.
Dr Walsh assisted the AOC team in Tokyo through AUSMAT's extensive COVID-19 experience to support their strategies to keep Aussie athletes safe and able to complete through every step of the global event attended by over 10,000 athletes. This included assessment of elevators, room ventilation, dining halls, transportation to and from competition arenas, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies.
With the Winter Olympics running throughout February, Dr Walsh said proactive testing is vital.
“The Tokyo games were an entirely new experience filled with unknowns, we managed a much larger team and managed movement within a bubble during a summer event,”
“The Winter Olympics posed new challenges, not to mention the Omicron variant which added further risk.”
“It’s was a huge event with athletes moving between three sites. Although I anticipated cases, I believe this time around we were far more aware and prepared.”