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Spine Surgery London and the 2012 Olympics

The Spine Surgery London is proud to count three of its members within the medical teams providing support for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The Spine Surgery London’s Director, Peter Hamlyn, has been charged with leading the specialist spinal services for The Games. Responsible for the specialist spinal care delivered to the world’s athletes competing at the games, as well as their ‘Olympic Family’, he is joined on the team by Mr Kia Rezajooi. In addition, Dr Eleanor Tillett, our Sports Physician, is Chief Medical Officer for the British Figure Skating Team, where her principal responsibilities rest with the Winter Olympic events.

The Spine Surgery London wishes them well in fulfilling their new responsibilities, and would ask of our patients and clients some forbearance during The Games. We may need to be ‘somewhat flexible’ in our arrangements, though would anticipate no fall-off in provision.

Many members of the team are familiar with the challenges and care required in elite sport. Counting patients from many premier league rugby and football clubs, as well as elite level tennis, cricket, horseracing, golf and motorsports, their involvement with Olympic sport goes back some distance.

Peter Hamlyn was an advisor to the Olympic bid and part of the five-man medical team that presented the medical elements to the IOC (International Olympic Committee) in 2005. It was just prior to this meeting in February 2005, and as a part of the bid process, that they successfully achieved specialist recognition for Sport & Exercise Medicine.

There then followed the successful vote in July 2005, which brought home The Games to London.

Peter Hamlyn had been brought into the team by Lord Coe, whom he had met some years before when they were both guest writers for the sports section of The Daily Telegraph. They had been brought together in that role by the legendary and sadly late Sports Editor, David Welch. There, he also met and worked with Michael Parkinson, who has since become a Patron of the Brain & Spine Foundation, a charity which Peter Hamlyn helped establish in 1990.

There are many chapters in an Olympic bid document, with the medical element representing only one. However, Britain has a very strong hand in the field of sport and exercise medicine. Indeed, there was a profound recognition of this fact during the interrogation which the IOC gave the medical team. They were asked “if the medical standards available to injured athletes would meet Formula 1 standards”.

In fact, Peter Hamlyn had been trained by the legendary Chief Medical Officer for Formula 1, Prof Sid Watkins, former Professor of Neurosurgery at The Royal London Hospital. They went on to work together for over 20 years, but this pales in comparison with the relationship that Sid Watkins had with Formula 1 and sports medicine. For over 30 years, he was heavily involved in every aspect of Formula 1, and indeed all competitive car racing. His influence set a gold standard for sports safety, not only in motorsport and in Britain, but across all sports and the planet. The governing bodies of other sports were, by the early 2000s, being judged in comparison with the levels of care and safety he had achieved in that, one of the most dangerous sports.

In his brief moment in the sun, Peter Hamlyn was able to reassure the IOC that “not only can we provide such services, but we invented them!”

Since 2005, he has been heavily involved in the establishment of the new speciality, Sport & Exercise Medicine, and the training of this new breed of consultant. Eleanor Tillett, who was already established as a Sports Physician, entered this program and is now in charge of the Masters programme at University College London – recently ranked 4th in the world.

The Olympics is the ultimately sporting challenge. It requires extraordinary levels of fitness. Most athletes will be battling some form of injury, and all will have done so at various points in their careers. For many, these are spinal problems, including back pain and sciatica. Indeed, low back pain and sciatica are major problems in several sports, including rowing, gymnastics, tennis, and many of the contact sports. Likewise, neck pain and the equivalent of sciatica in the arm, brachalgia, are common problems in rugby, horse racing, and the martial arts. Indeed, there is not a sport in which cervical and lumbar disc problems are not a feature. It is likely that the team will have their work cut out for them. However, it is the athletes who face the greater challenge – perhaps the greatest challenge of all.

From all of us at The Spine Surgery London, we wish the Olympic competitors well.