Volunteering for the IOC Medical Research Team at the Youth Olympics 2020 in Lausanne

Swiss Junior Doctors and Undergraduate Perspective on Sport and Exercise Medicine Blog Series

By Debbie Maurer, @debbrickie, Lauren Stollenwerk, @lauren_zh, Karsten Königstein, @KarstenKnigste1 and Justin Carrard @CarrardJustin

Lausanne, the Olympic Capital

In 1915, the founder of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Baron Pierre de Coubertin, chose Lausanne, a beautiful lakeside city in western Switzerland, to be home to the IOC’s headquarters. One hundred years later, in 2015, Lausanne was chosen again – to host the third edition of the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG). For the first time since the beginning of the modern Olympic Games, the Olympic flame was lit in its capital on January 9th 2020 and 1,872 young athletes competed in 16 winter sport disciplines over 13 days. We, a group of three doctors and one medical student, got the chance to be part of this big event, joining 3,800 other volunteers.

Figure 2: Opening ceremony on January 9th 2020, Vaudoise arena, Lausanne


While thousands of people were involved in the amazing outcome of these YOGs, we worked in a small group led by Prof. Dr. Lars Engebretsen (@larsengebretsen), Dr. Debbie Palmer (@DebbieSPalmer) and Dr. Torbjorn Soligard (@TSoligard). Following on from previous studies at the Olympics, this group conducted a surveillance study on the incidence of acute injury and illness among the athletes during the time period of the event (1-5). The findings of such studies act as building blocks to improve athlete health preservation. Prevention works best if all parties involved act together: Chefs de Mission, doctors, physiotherapists, researchers and the athletes themselves. Given this, our work involved a great deal of interesting interdisciplinary collaborations with all of the latter to achieve high reporting percentages, maximizing the scientific value of the surveillance study.

Figure 3: The IOC Medical Research group (upper row, from left to right: Peter Szabo, Lauren Stollenwerk, Debbie Palmer, Debbie Maurer, Karsten Königstein, lower row: Torbjorn Soligard, Erwin Bender, Justin Carrard, Thomas Roos). Missing on the photo: Prof. Lars Engebretsen and Dr. Natalia Salmina.

Education for everyone

The Youth Olympic Village (YOV) of Lausanne is in an iconic new building called “the Vortex”. In the Vortex, one can make their way up to the roof on a spiral walk alongside the teams’ rooms which are marked by their national flags. The placement of the Vortex amidst the city’s university campus highlights the IOC’s effort to include educational work in the sports environment. Twice a day, presentations on various sport & exercise medicine (SEM) topics were held in the YOV medical clinic. This turned out to be a frequent meeting point for team doctors, physiotherapists and students. The issues discussed during these sessions included some of the longer known problems encountered in sports medicine, such as ACL injuries or asthma, but also emerging topics regarding the athlete’s psychological (e.g. abuse in sports) and dental health. Athletes themselves were also invited to join the “Health for Performance” program to learn about important topics like sexual and mental abuse, doping prevention and how to manage media attention.

Figure 4: The Vortex (Youth Olympic Village) by night

The big stage

Athletes were aged 15 to 18 years. Thus, it is safe to say that for most of them, taking part in the YOG marks the first big step of their international sports career. Apart from the educational work described in the last paragraph, the aim of the Games is to encourage young people to represent the positive values of sports. These are, as written on the official website of Lausanne 2020, “Respect for others, for themselves and for our environment; friendship between people and cultures; and, excellence in self-giving – and to become sports ambassadors throughout the world”(6). Making first contact with the life of a professional athlete as a 15- to 18-year old also involves a great deal of challenges, like handling the pressure that comes with performing on a big stage. The YOG gave this upcoming generation of stars the opportunity to learn how to handle themselves in tough situations that could arise in the future.

Figure 5: Speed skating competition in St. Moritz (2nd venue besides Lausanne)

On the road to Tokyo 2020

It was a truly enriching experience for the four of us to experience the Olympic spirit as part of a sport & exercise medicine research group. The success of our data collection depended greatly on the teamwork in our group, which is a major attribute of good sportsmanship. We all contributed to the success of the medical surveillance program, translated the content of the reporting system into different languages and discussed feedbacks to further improve the software. We were pleased to help Lars Engebretsen and colleagues in their endeavors and their final preparations to this year’s Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo and in subsequent (Youth) Olympic Games. For now, we say “thank you Lausanne, for an unforgettable experience!”


Debbie Maurer (@debbrickie) is a sports-enthusiastic first-year assistant doctor in the internal medicine department of the Davos regional hospital and a Doctoral researcher at the Swiss Institute for Allergy and Asthma Research (SIAF) in Davos, Switzerland, where she works on a project focusing on exercise immunology and asthma in athletes. Email: dmaurer@spitaldavos.ch / debbie.maurer@siaf.uzh.ch

Lauren Stollenwerk (@lauren_zh) is a sixth-year medical student at the University of Zurich. As a passionate runner and endurance athlete, she pursues to become a (sports-) cardiologist. Email: lauren-stollenwerk@bluewin.ch

Karsten Königstein (@KarstenKnigste1) is a medical post doc at the Department for Sport, Exercise and Health of the University of Basel in Switzerland. He is also an Editor of the German Journal of Sports Medicine. His main research focus is prevention of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases in children and adults.Email: k.koenigstein@unibas.ch

Justin Carrard (@CarrardJustin) is a 4th year SEM resident doctor and postdoctoral researcher at the Department for Sport, Exercise & Health of the University of Basel. He is also a SEMS board member, the president of Junior SEMS and coordinates the BJSM Swiss Junior Doctors and Undergraduate Perspective Blog Series. As an ex-competitive swimmer, he has a keen interest for endurance sports and regularly practices them with passion. Email: justin.carrard@unibas.ch


  1. Soligard T, Palmer D, Steffen K, Lopes AD, Grant ME, Kim D, et al. Sports injury and illness incidence in the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games: a prospective study of 2914 athletes from 92 countries. British journal of sports medicine. 2019;53(17):1085-92.
  2. Soligard T, Steffen K, Palmer D, Alonso JM, Bahr R, Lopes AD, et al. Sports injury and illness incidence in the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Summer Games: A prospective study of 11274 athletes from 207 countries. British journal of sports medicine. 2017;51(17):1265-71.
  3. Soligard T, Steffen K, Palmer-Green D, Aubry M, Grant ME, Meeuwisse W, et al. Sports injuries and illnesses in the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. British journal of sports medicine. 2015;49(7):441-7.
  4. Steffen K, Moseid CH, Engebretsen L, Soberg PK, Amundsen O, Holm K, et al. Sports injuries and illnesses in the Lillehammer 2016 Youth Olympic Winter Games. British journal of sports medicine. 2017;51(1):29-35.
  5. Steffen K, Soligard T, Mountjoy M, Dallo I, Gessara AM, Giuria H, et al. How do the new Olympic sports compare with the traditional Olympic sports? Injury and illness at the 2018 Youth Olympic Summer Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina. British journal of sports medicine. 2020;54(3):168-75.
  6. https://www.lausanne2020.sport/en/the-games.

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