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Emergency Medicine Professor Headed to Summer Olympics as Physician for Team USA

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Emergency Medicine Professor Headed to Summer Olympics as Physician for Team USA

Former Olympic alternate Christina Yannetsos, MD, will work with U.S. athletes at the Games

Author Greg Glasgow | Publish Date July 9, 2021

After a year of waiting, Christina Yannetsos, MD, is finally headed to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Yannetsos, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, was selected in fall 2019 as a physician for Team USA, but the 2020 Summer Olympics were postponed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are now scheduled to begin on July 23.

A former member of the USA Judo National team, Yannetsos worked as a physician with the current USA Judo team at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs before being selected as a physician for the summer games. This will be her second trip to the Olympics — she traveled to the Summer Olympics in Athens in 2004 with Team USA Judo, but attended as an alternate and training partner due to a shoulder injury she suffered during Olympic trials

We sat down with Yannetsos to talk about her journey to the Olympics and how her experiences in athletics influenced her career in medicine.

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What is the process like to be selected as a physician for Team USA?

You start off by working with a national governing body like USA Judo, USA Wrestling, or USA Boxing. You build rapport with the team, and then at that point you can be invited to volunteer at an Olympic training center. I got to volunteer in Colorado Springs, where I had lived as an athlete. I did a rotation there; I volunteered in the sports medicine training room and worked with all the Team USA athletes who live there. I worked with different camps, helped run events — it’s like an on-the-job interview where they see how you work with the teams, how you interact with different specialties, whether it’s trainers, therapists, chiropractors, sport therapists, nutritionists, or psychologists. They see how you form and become part of that team. From there, it’s a selection process. They only take 10 physicians for these Olympics, and they choose from the pool of people who have volunteered and put in their time.

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What is your role at the Summer Games, and what are you most looking forward to?

I’m assigned to USA Judo as their head team physician, so I’ll be at all their events and supporting their team. There are different places the sports medicine team and supporting staff will be, and one is the high-performance clinic, which is where I will be. Each Olympics, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee sets up a regional Olympic training center so the athletes feel like they have a home away from home. We bring our nutritionists, athletic trainers, massage therapists, even the chef from the Olympic training center. I'm excited to support the athletes. I’m excited to see what it’s like on the other side, going from an athlete’s role to a physician and supporting staff role. I’m really excited to bring my own unique perspective to support our athletes.

How long has judo been a part of your life?

I started judo when I was 5. My best friend at the time was Argentinian, her dad had participated in judo in Argentina, and my dad did it in college. I was terrible when I started; I got thrown around by the bigger kids, but I was one of those kids where if you put me down, it just made me want to work harder to be better. So I kept going, and I landed on my first international team at 12 or 13. I started traveling internationally with Team USA as a junior athlete, and after high school I moved to Colorado Springs and trained at the Olympic training center out here, then I qualified for the Olympics. I received a scholarship to go to the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, so my education was supported, and they supported me in other things outside athletics as well. They encourage athletes to volunteer and work so they have well-rounded athletes.

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What do you like most about judo?

It’s an individual sport, so you’re always pushing yourself to be better and you’re always reevaluating yourself to see how you can improve. The thing I like about individual sports is that you really can be introspective and evaluate yourself to see the things you need improvement on and the things you’re doing really well on. I think it’s crossed over to other things in my life. I’m always looking to see how I can do better, how I can improve, and I think a lot of that has to do with judo. Especially the discipline and working hard toward something. A lot of that I owe to judo.

What made you decide to go to medical school?

As an athlete, going through injuries and recovery, it was something I really wanted to help others get through as well. I went to the Medical College of Wisconsin for medical school, and I was drawn to emergency medicine because I really enjoy working with patients from all walks of life, different cultures, different backgrounds, different ages, and the ability to connect with people on one of their very worst days and be that supportive advocate. Emergency medicine is another thing that is very challenging. It’s kind of like a puzzle, and you have to put things together pretty quickly.

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