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FEATURE When Olympic team doctors have to break the bad news to athletes By Andreas Schirmer, dpa

Europe
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Olympic team doctors often enough have to face an emotionally-charged medical decision: Telling an injured athlete that his or her games are over, despite four previous years of hard training.

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - It‘s a moment every team doctor dreads and hopes won‘t happen, but then usually does, and the experience of head doctor of the German Olympic team in Rio is no exception: Having to break the news to an athlete that his or her Olympics are over because of injury.

Bernd Wolfarth head of a team of 24 doctors for the German Olympic squad, had to tell gymnast Andreas Toba the bad news about the cruciate ligament tear. Four years of hard work and training wiped out in an instant.

"If you are interested in sports, it really hurts your soul when somebody goes out with injury," said Wolfarth, 50, who chief of sports medicine at Berlin‘s prestigious Charite hospital.

Wolfarth, listing previous cases in his work with German Olympic teams, also tells of the most emotionally-charged one at Beijing in 2008. Then, three of the rowers in the four-man skulls competition had come down with a feverish infection and he ordered their withdrawal ahead of the semi-finals.

"The athletes had not lost a race in three-and-a-half years and had trained for the Olympics for four years," he said. "In this situation, trying to make it clear that we were taking them out for their own health safety was really tough and a very emotional situation."

In Rio, assisted by 23 other doctors, 43 physiotherapists and three sports psychologists, Wolfarth is hoping that after the severe injury to gymnast Toba, things will be quiet. But his team is prepared for any eventuality.

One of those eventualities concerns the subject of the common mosquito, and with it all the concern and worry about the Zika virus. "Rather unintentionally, I have mutated into an expert on Zika. We have taken this subject very seriously," the Berlin doctor said.

Wolfarth at the moment is calm about the possible dangers. "Things have developed the way we expected. At the moment mosquitoes are not much of a burden and so the dangers of infection can be regarded as low."

Another subject the Olympic medical community is watching concerns the water quality at the sailing events. Luckily, so far none of the skippers have come down with any sickness, Wolfarth said. The worry remains, however, after European 49er class sailing champion Erik Heil came down with an severe highly-resistant germ infection during test regatta in Rio a year ago.

Wolfarth warns that "there is no medical prevention" to guard against such infections. The preventative measures are found more in schooling the sailors on taking special hygienic care of themselves after being out on the water.

German laser class sailor Philipp Buhl listens intently to such advice. "I hope that I won‘t need a doctor. But if I do, then he should know they are capable."

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