August 10, 2012

An Olympic athlete's life isn't all glory

By Dr. JONATHAN MULHOLLAND, Contributing Writer

---- — It’s hard to believe, but the daily routine of an Olympic athlete is actually quite boring. 

They spend the majority of their time sleeping, lifting weights, going to practice, eating bland food in ordinary restaurants and sitting around their hotel room.

The exception to this monotony is race day. Things change on race day. This is when all the hours in the weight room and all the sessions on the track pay off. Along with the rest of the support staff, it is my job to get the athlete’s body and mind ready to compete. To prepare them to win.


Emotions and behaviors change on race day. Athletes get strange. Personalities get magnified. A chatty athlete becomes an obnoxious loudmouth. A moody person suddenly intolerable. Not unlike some friends after a few cocktails ...

Race day starts early. Up at 6 a.m. and immediately to the weight room with the athletes. In power sports (like track cycling, sprinting and bobsled), it is common to use a brief, explosive training session in the weight room to “potentiate” the nervous system. Basically, we want to “wake up” the muscles and nerves to improve performance later in the day.

Immediately following the session, we hit breakfast for the race-day meal. My athletes try to have their last meal three hours prior to competition.  Athletes’ menuS will vary slightly, but they always have something bland and familiar. The morning of an Olympic race is NOT the time to try out the goat curry.


Ninety minutes prior to the race, the athletes and I arrive at the track. They change into their race suits and start an easy warm-up. For the past year, I have been working with each of my athletes on developing a specific and individualized “pre-race routine.” I don’t want any surprises on race day, and I don’t want my athletes worrying about what they need to do next. Everything I do is planned in advance and implemented in a very specific order.

This is when I use my training and skills to get them moving as efficiently as possible. My treatments are not the “typical” chiropractic techniques used to eliminate pain. My treatments are done to improve performance. I use deep-tissue work on their muscles, manipulate and mobilize joints, and apply colored athletic tape to their body — all done to gain that small advantage that is the difference between an Olympic medal and last place.


Yet I am only one small piece in the performance puzzle. Our team also has a strength coach, an exercise physiologist, a head coach, a videographer and a sports psychologist. We will all have contact with each athlete leading up to the start of their race. All of us. This is the comfort “umbrella” that the athlete relies on to ease his or her nerves and emotions on race day. 

We have been working together for the past year to create familiarity and continuity for the athlete —all in hopes of avoiding any race-day surprises.

Finally, the race is about to start. After all of the preparation and planning, my job ends the minute the athlete gets to the starting line. In a matter of seconds, I will find out if the thousands of hours of work and the months away from my family will pay off ...

Dr. Jonathan Mulholland, who graduated from Plattsburgh High School in 1992, lives in Plattsburgh. He is a consultant for the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid and has worked with dozens of Olympians and World Champions. Email him at