Building a Gold Medal Medical Team

It takes a special kind of person to lead the medical team for the Olympic Games. And when Vancouver takes centre stage in 2010, it’ll take someone with the right balance of experience and knowledge to bring home medical gold. Cue Dr. Jack Taunton.

Appointed by the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) in December 2005, Dr. Taunton has taken on the all-encompassing role of Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for the 2010 Games. Taunton is responsible for overseeing the medical services program, which includes the development of a basic and emergency health care delivery program and doping control program for the 2010 Games and all pre-Games events.

With over twenty-five years of experience providing medical support for Canadian national sports teams, this BC physician brings to the position a wealth of knowledge in the field of sport medicine. Jack Taunton is co-founder and Director of the Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Centre at UBC, co-founder of the Vancouver Sun Run, and has acted as Dedicated Team Physician at multi-sport international events, including Olympic Games, Pan American Games and Commonwealth Games. Taunton was also the CMO for the Canadian Olympic team at the 2000 Olympic Summer Games in Sydney,providing him with a solid base as he prepares for Vancouver 2010.

SportMedBC is particularly proud of Taunton’s selection as CMO, because Jack also co-founded the BC Council in 1982, and served as president for 12 years.

During an interview, Jack spoke candidly about the CMO position: "This is a tremendous honour," he explains. I"t’s a position I’ve dreamed about, hoping I would qualify for, but honestly didn’t think I would get with all the other qualified candidates out there." But whether he realized it or not, Jack stood apart from the rest. In a press release, VANOC stated, "Dr. Taunton was chosen from a group of highly skilled and experienced applicants, and it was the combination of his broad experience and the compatibility between his personal values and those of our organization that resulted in his appointment." Senior Vice President, Sport, Paralympics and Venue Management, Cathy Priestner Allinger said, "I am confident that Jack will lead a tremendous medical program in 2010."

As a Chief Medical Officer, Taunton immediately becomes a member of the IOC Medical Commission and is currently taking part in the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games. He will also be an active member of the Commission for the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

Jack is currently working part-time at VANOC for 2 days a week, which will increase to 4 days a week in September, and likely 7 days a week closer to 2010. He’ll certainly be putting in his time, dealing with all the intricacies of the event: everything from medical coverage for the torch relay to the medical centre in the airport’s international zone.  Taunton is also responsible for the first aid training of up to 1,800 volunteer sports first aiders.

During the span of the 2010 Games, there will be approximately 1.6 million visitors in Vancouver, and at least 60,000 per day at Whistler. There will be two villages, one in Vancouver and one in Whistler, which will house the 5,500 athletes, coaches, and support staff from around the world. Between the two sites, there will be 10 venues and 5 Paralympic venues. And at every venue there will be an athlete medical station, which will require a physician, orthopedic surgeon, and a physiotherapist.

Providing large-scale medical support for this event is an overwhelming task, but Taunton is up for the challenge. He is well-prepared to staff all of the Olympic sites, and will begin by laying out the medical jobs for multiple area clinics. Such positions include: medical manager, office manager, primary care sports medicine physician, orthopedic surgeon, neurosurgeon, general surgeon, and dentist. Demonstrating the grand scale of this task, Jack explains that Salt Lake City had 22 dentists on hand. Each venue will also require eye service with optometrists and ophthalmologists, physiotherapy, massage therapy, chiropractic care, bracing and prosthetic service, and all the disability services for the Paralympics, including wheelchair repair. There will also be 100 ambulances and 200 nurses on hand – 30 of which will work in doping control.

Beyond the medical staffing requirements, Taunton emphasizes that public health issues need serious consideration. VANOC will work closely with Vancouver Coastal Health to prepare for basic health issues including daily air, food, and water quality, as well as surveillance. "Infectious disease surveillance is one matter that everyone is particularly concerned about, especially since it’s flu season",explains Jack. He’s already been to a bird flu pandemic congress so information can be sent to all the National Olympic Committees. When asked what his biggest challenges will be as CMO, it’s obvious that Jack has given this some thought.  Not surprisingly, the organization and training of the monstrous medical team is high on his list. But Taunton says that their number one priority will be doping control.  "The biggest challenge and biggest goal, for me personally, is to see that we have a drug-free games," he says. Other challenges he faces include ensuring the spectators are safe, and electronically linking the hospitals and venues.

As a Chief Medical Officer, Jack Taunton has the opportunity to make an impact on our communities, and on the world through future Olympic Games. Yet he remains grounded and focused as he explains,  "We’ve got tremendous sports medicine resources in Vancouver and BC and all I’m doing is quarterbacking a team of outstanding people." With this outstanding team, there is a legacy he wishes to leave behind. His hope is to initiate a doping education program for children and adults that would eliminate street and social drugs in addition to sport-related drugs.

If things go according to plan,Taunton would also like his legacy to be an integrated sport medicine facility. Jack has dedicated his career to improving sport medicine throughout BC and Canada, so this is the ultimate opportunity for him. With all of the equipment left after the Games are over,  "we’ll have enough available to really connect with sport science in BC, and take things to the next level. Plans are already underway to develop the wellness and sport medicine and science centre in Richmond. The facility would be complete with cancer research and treatment, cardiac rehab, exercise for the elderly, and children and obesity programs.

Because Jack co-founded SportMedBC, he knows there is an important role for the Council to play leading up to and during the 2010 Games. For starters, SportMedBC can facilitate recruitment, manage the database of practitioners, and play a hand in training the hundreds of sports first-aiders needed. The Council already has a successful Sports First Aid program in place that can be used to make this happen. In addition, SportMedBC has an experienced medical coverage team, so VANOC will be able to tap into this support system. Depending on the direction we take, I can see SportMedBC helping us move forward in a number of positive ways,Taunton says.

Whichever direction Taunton leads his medical team, we’re sure it’ll be medical gold. And although the job of CMO is a huge responsibility, Jack is definitely in the right frame of mind: For me, it’s about being part of a team of other dedicated health care givers. I’m a team player at heart, he says. Now that’s Olympic spirit.

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