Cal’s Dr. Chang leads US medical team at Olympics

Cindy Chang at work in the Sports Medicine Specialty Clinic at the Tang Center, UC Berkeley. Photo: University Health Services

Later today, Dr. Cindy Chang will set off for London. But she bears a bigger responsibility than most people flying across the Atlantic: when Chang arrives, as chief medical officer for Team USA she’ll be responsible for the clinical supervision of a medical staff of 80 responding to the needs and the inevitable emergencies for the 525 athletes at the London Olympic Games.

“It’s a huge honor. It’s really exciting,” said Chang, who was the chief team physician for Cal Athletics from 1995-2008 and is now a family medicine and sports medicine specialist at University Health Services. “There are a lot of things I didn’t expect to be doing 20 years ago. My goal was to be a well-trained family physician with a strong training in sports medicine as well.”  

London won’t be Chang’s first Olympic experience. She served as chief medical officer for the Paralympic Games in Beijing in 2008. But Chang’s appointment as the US team’s CMO for the Olympic Games marks a number of firsts: first woman CMO and first Chinese-American CMO for an able bodied Olympics.

Despite the honor, Chang checked first with her husband and two children before taking on the responsibility. She stepped down from her post as Cal’s chief team physician four years ago so she could spend more team with her family. Her children — a daughter and a son, both at Berkeley High — apparently okayed the assignment. The kids and Chang’s husband will also be traveling to the Olympics, but Chang reckons she’ll be lucky if she gets away for one meal with them during their time at the Games.

Chang recognizes she may have very few opportunities to get out of the Olympic Village, where she’ll be putting together Team USA’s sports medicine clinic almost from the moment she arrives tomorrow.

“We have to unpack all the pallets that have been shipped from Colorado Springs to the Olympic Village,” she explains. The pallets have the medical team’s formulary of medications, and medical supplies and equipment. The 80 medical staff under Chang’s guidance includes other physicians, chiropractors, athletic trainers, physical therapists and massage therapists.

Chang visited London in February to meet the London Organizing Committee, tour hospitals and other medical facilities, and review the numerous Olympic venues. Chang will work from the main US clinic in the Olympic Village, but she’ll have team staff working remotely with some of the teams. Women’s soccer, for example, will play its preliminary round games in Glasgow and Manchester.

Chang says the challenge of dealing with so many different sports in the Olympics doesn’t necessarily pose particular difficulties for the medical staff.

“There are some of us that have more experience working with one sport more than any other, but all of us are trained to work with athletes,” she says. “The mechanism of injury may be different, but the injury itself is typically the same. We’re often in the position of saying, ‘Tell me again what is the move you did that caused you to be injured?’ You can’t pretend you know; you can’t fool the athletes.”

Chang says she’s looking forward to seeing many of the 30 athletes from Cal competing in the Summer Games, some for Team USA, some for other nations. She hopes, however, that she sees them casually in the Olympic Village or at a competition venue, and not because of illness or injury.

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  • LBK

    Congratulations to Dr. Chang as first woman and Chinese American CMO for US Olympic team – but want to emphasize that this is a volunteer position for which she receives no compensation beyond travel expenses.  Thanks, Dr. Chang, for giving your time and expertise for our athletes in London.

  • Robley2

    Dave Pelham

  • Dave Pelham

    Just a comment on the situation into which Dr. Chang will be plunging:  When my wife and I were in London several weeks ago, a huge amount of talk was buzzing about the lousy transportation situation and the number of unslod seats to various venues that were vexing the British Olympic Committee.

    I hope that Dr. Chang does not find herself treating competing atheletes for physical stresses not on their training schedules as would have been many non-athelete visitors to London the day after the finalee the celebrations surrounding the Queens 60th anniversary of rule (?).  If you don’t know by now, that night over one million people where in downtown London for the climax of that event when, as was somehow tied in with the ongoing practices for transportation of huge numbers of Olympic visitors to and from events all over the area, and tied foolishly to the ending time of the Queens jubliee of 11 pm, all surface and underground rail transportation  in and out of city center was TURNED  Off at 12 midnight.   A large chunk of a million people got a rude surprise when they had to walk home, or hire a cab (think cabs can transport that many in less than two full days?), or, as was reported in local papers, sleep on the street. 

    If the good doctor hasn’t been told of this untelligent decision by London’s transit authorities, and if service hasn’t  been timed much differently by now after this foul-up, she should work to enact enacted a policy by the US Olympic team to not allow any competing athelete to leave his or her housing unit the night(s) before any competition.

    Re:  leaving BHS teams hanging out ot dry last year (I just found this site, so was news to me) with no football equipment storage nor field to play on during construction, etc for other teams:

    How could the Superintendent of BUSD and staff NOT know about this problem and that it was likely to be a VERY quick deal when semic safety problems closed the old gym?

    I graduated from BHS in January 1960, and there were few souls on campus then who weren’t concerned about the Earthquake safety of that used up old dump of a building (unless they were the already the “dumbed down” of the USA who we knew were around even then).  I spent several school year long courses in that crumbling old place, and most of my teachers warned us each year that we were going to have to run like hell if a big quake hit.

    For a city with Berkeley’s reputation for educational excellence I have to wonder just why it is that the school board doesn’t hire only Superintendents who went to Berkeley High.  And, why is it that board members aren’t required to be old Berkeley residents.  We knew that antiquated trash pile gym was dangerous way back in the ’50s.  The plans for a smooth transition to demolition, then clearing of the site, then building, then occupation of the replacement structure should have been in place all those fifty years ago, and Superintendents should have been made to memorize them throughly or not be hired ! !

    Had Berkeley High been lucky, fire would have taken that junk pile, at night, more than 60 years ago ! ! !

    One of BHS’s most famous and wealthy graduates, Jack LaLane, would have likely been more than interested in participating in fund raising for the project and going halves with the District to build a new gym, long ago.   

  • Asdf

    you’re nuts and tangential