Disclosures: Williams reports no relevant financial disclosures.
August 26, 2021
2 min read

Orthopedic surgeon has ‘worthwhile experience’ at Summer Olympics despite restrictions

Disclosures: Williams reports no relevant financial disclosures.
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Participants of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo faced a unique but worthwhile experience as the games advanced despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I do not know what a normal Olympics was like, but I imagine it was more,” Riley J. Williams, MD, team physician for USA Basketball and professor of orthopedic surgery and attending surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery, told Healio Orthopedics. “[The 2020 Olympics] was unique. It was quiet and reasonably isolated.”

Restrictions at the Tokyo Games

To keep the Tokyo public, as well as incoming athletes and staff safe during the Olympics, Williams noted participants of the Tokyo Games were restricted to the grounds of the hotel, and the practice and Olympic arenas. He added participants were unable to attend any additional sporting activities or events besides their own and no fans were allowed to attend the games, with the arena limited to participants, workers and members of the press.

Riley J. Williams
Riley J. Williams

“For example, at the men’s [basketball] final, I want to say it felt like there were probably a couple thousands of people in the arena, as opposed to probably a capacity of 40,000,” Williams said.

Although Williams said he did not feel apprehensive about COVID-19 while at the Olympics, he said he was concerned about the mental health of the athletes, who were not only away from their support network, but also had to stay isolated while attending the games. However, Williams said, in the end, the players handled the separation well and relied on their teammates and staff for support.

“As bad as it was, it was happening to everybody and so, in many ways, it just made them more focused on the task at hand, which was to go there and demonstrate that they are the best basketball players in the world,” Williams said.

Worthwhile experience

Despite the restrictions in place and the uniqueness of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Williams said the USA Basketball team and staff made the best of the situation by gathering together to watch the Olympics on television or spending one-on-one time with each other.

“There usually was a catered dinner, and I would just do work or a few of us would gather,” Williams said. “There was a small outdoor space at the tennis courts that was accessible via the gym, so we could go up there and at least go outside a little bit after 8 o’clock.”

“[The Olympics was] definitely a worthwhile experience. [It] definitely took me out of what was the norm of my day-to-day clinical life and, quite frankly, I was more of a doctor than I was a ‘carpenter,’ which I am in my normal life,” Williams said. “It required me to use a knowledge base and skillset that I do not typically use, but I was grateful to realize I still had that.”