Archived version! Visit the new (official) website -

YouTube Facebook Twitter

Olympic Facts: My Experience as 1996 U.S. Olympic Team Chiropractor

Silver Spring Chiropractor to Join Olympic Jock Docs, Washington Post, 4/18/96.

My Experience at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games

Olympic Facts

U.S. Olympic Committee Voluteer Medical Program

U.S. Olympic Chiropractic Care Supports Olympic Athletes

Silver Spring Chiropractor to Join Olympic Jock Docs
Washington Post April 18, 1996

In the hallway of his fourth-floor office in Silver Spring, chiropractor Steve Horwitz proudly displays newspaper articles and photos of the many figures from the sports world he has treated - a celebrated local college basketball coach, this year's entire NCAA championship track and field team and many less famous athletes.

This summer, he may need an additional wall for the pictures he'll collect in Atlanta as the only doctor of chiropractic on the U.S. Olympic team medical staff.

"I think I will just redo the wall," quipped Horwitz, who will join 10 physicians and 31 athletic trainers who have volunteered for four weeks of work at the summer games. "I will find space."

Horwitz, 35, of Rockville, was selected for the lone slot from a field of more than 6,000 chiropractors. Fewer than 30 were invited to participate in a two week tryout at the USOC training center in Colorado Springs, and Horwitz's invitation came after he served on the medical staff at the 1995 Olympic Festival.

"His ability to interact in an environment other than an office is definitely noticed," said John Lehtinen, the head physician for the U.S. Olympic Committee, who was in charge of evaluating applicants.

"All of these people need to get along in the heat of the battle. People who cannot get along, they stand out like sore thumbs."

Only in recent years have the two disciplines of medicine and chiropractic achieved a measure of coexistence after decades of bitter competition and suspicion.

Medical doctors evaluate patients who develop symptoms or injuries, and they typically prescribe drugs or surgery to teat problems. Chiropractic relies on manipulations of the spinal column in the belief that the nervous system integrates all the body's functions and has inherent recuperative powers to restore and maintain health.

Many MDs have sneered at chiropractic as a field for charlatans, and chiropractors have viewed physicians as exclusionary competitors who would stop at nothing to deprive them of professional acceptance and even their livelihood.

Many of Horwitz's regular patients visit for weekly adjustments, a procedure that takes about 10 minutes.

For a moment, the examination almost resembles a massage. Horwitz keeps one elbow firmly planted in a patient's lower back while his free hand gently feels each joint. When he comes across one that appears to be out of place, his two hands meet at the joint and he applies an abrupt, forceful motion, eliciting a loud CRACK from the patient's body.

Patients say the manipulations ease their discomfort.

The Olympic Committee did not officially include a chiropractor on its medical staff until the 1988 games.

"They have a role to play, and I think they assist in athletic care," Lehtinen said. "The athletes seem to think they help, and that is why [chiropractors] are there."

"I think it is great and long overdue," said Dick Nellius, spokesman for the American Chiropractic Association. "It shows chiropractic treatment is recognized, that chiropractors are now major players on the health care circuit."

"Â…The athletes insisted on having a chiropractor at the Olympics," Nellius said. Sometimes they want a chiropractor because they have a problem, but a lot of times they find they help enhance their performance. Steve is a former athlete and an excellent chiropractor. They like him."

Horwitz, who received a history degree from Cornell University in 1982 and graduated from the National College of Chiropractic in Chicago in 1986, said the sports setting enhances the cooperation between the two health professions.

"The name of the game is to get the athlete better, quickly and safely - not who is the best one to treat him or her," he said.

Since he launched his practice in 1989, Horwitz's patients have included George Washington University men's basketball coach Mike Jarvis, former Olympic hurdler and San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Renaldo Nehemiah, 1992 Olympic decathlete Rob Muzzio and former Washington Redskin Rick Walker.

He volunteered for five years with the George Mason University sports medicine staff before leaving in 1993 to pursue the Olympic team position.

"I found out through some other people that he was highly recommended," said Jarvis, who went to Horwitz this year with back problems. Jarvis said that a physician recommended back surgery several years back and that he sought multiple opinions before beginning treatment with Horwitz.

"There are people who do not agree with [chiropractic care]," Jarvis said. "But there are a lot of people who say it works. It has worked for me. I cannot believe anybody would not want someone who explains what they are doing, why they were doing it and gave the necessary ammunition - exercises, advice. He was very thorough."

Horwitz's spare time is limited, and he wastes little of it. He office health advice on a weekly talk show on WTEM radio, works as a consultant for dance and theater groups and campaigns against steroid use by touting his book on the subject and singing an original rap song when he lectures high school students.

In 1986, he won a national Amateur Athletic Union Collegiate Mr. America bodybuilding championship and ran two marathons. He is now working toward a black belt in Hapiko, a 14th century Korean martial art, and he trains with weights three days each week.

"He has always been active, especially with sports," said U.S. decathlete Rob Muzzio, who finished fifth at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 when he was one of Horwitz's patients. "That hives him the perfect perspective for dealing with world -class athletes. He has experienced the pulls and the strains. He knows the dynamics and movements of the body."

"He is an in-the-trenches guy," said Frank Novakoski, one of the two certified athletic trainers assigned to track and field at this summer's Olympics and who was the head athletic trainer at George Mason from 1986 to 1992. "If towels need to be folded, he is folding them. If someone needs to be iced, he does it. He does not just show up to do his job. He is a team player."

George Mason track and field coach John Cook, who has used several chiropractors for his team in his 18 years at the university, said Horwitz "was a catalyst."

"I have gone through a lot of chiropractors," Cook said, "and he is not just a chiropractor. He knows weight training, he knows diet and nutrition. And he knows when to be quiet and when to talk with the coaches. A lot of these guys want to show you how smart they are. I really miss him a lot."

One risk Horwitz faces this summer is being dazzled and distracted by the glamour of being in the middle of the Olympics, which will be telecast around the globe. But he has devised a simple formula for keeping focused and for pumping up his patients.

"It can be impressive," Horwitz said. "You have to say to yourself, "This is a patient with a specific problem, and I have to make sure to do my best to get him going.'

"Then I tell them after I am done that they have to do well because I am living vicariously through their performance, because I would rather be at the Olympics as an athlete than as a chiropractor."

My Experience at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games

At the 1995 Olympic Festival, weightlifter Thanh Nguyen signed a picture of himself doing a snatch on the front page of The Denver Post like this,
"To Dr. Steve,
Thank you for your help on my back. I know that I cannot lift without it. I hope to see you at the Atlanta '96 Games.

I read it and thought, "I would sure like to be there and see you as well."
My experience at the 1996 Summer Games was certainly the highlight of my career. The U.S. Olympic Team's medical staff is appointed through a series of evaluation performed at the Olympic Training Centers, United States Olympic Festivals and international events. Individuals were evaluated on their clinical skills and ability, efficacy in meeting the demands of elite level athletes, adaptability, and willingness to be part of a team. As the sole chiropractor on the 44 member staff, I was truly surrounded by wonderful people.

I arrived in Atlanta on July 6, 1996 about 6:00p.m. and was met by U.S.O.C. representatives. I am glad they were there because the airport was busy!! We were taken to a building in which we were given our credentials. These credentials would be worn at all times. Two plastic cards, one with a photo and another with a computer chip, were to be worn around each person's neck at all times. The card with the computer chip was part of a high tech hand geometry system used throughout the Olympic Village. Each time you entered the village you placed your hand on the hand geometry reader and this had to match the pattern on the card you were wearing.

Once I received my credentials, I boarded a bus with the Slovokian rifle team and U.S. 10m platform diver Patrick Jeffrey and headed toward the village. What normally should have been a 15 minute drive took over two hours. Our bus was denied entry to the village because the driver did not have the proper credentials and the bus was not sanitized, ie; checked for bombs! We tried every access gate to the village, but were refused entry. Finally, we convinced one of the head security guards to meet us at the main gate. He summoned a properly credentialled driver, checked the bus from top to bottom, and let us in. During this fiasco, I learned a great deal about 10m platform diving from Patrick Jeffrey. He became my first patient that very night.

The Olympic Village was on the campus of Georgia Tech University. The Village was set up into different zones: Blue, Gold, Purple, Green and Red. Each zone housed different teams. The village was home to over 10,000 athletes and 5000 coaches, medical personnel and staff from 197 countries. Home for next 30 days would be a 8'x8' dorm room with bunk beds in the dormitory of the U.S. Olympic Team.

On my first full day, I went through processing. Each member of the U.S. delegation (about 1100 people) was given clothes, luggage, shoes, sneakers and assorted odds and ends from official Olympic sponsors. As one athlete said, "It's Christmas in July!" During processing, each delegation member also had to complete a medical history form which was reviewed by our medical staff. If there were any red flags, the person was given a full examination.

The next day, I reported to the U.S. Olympic Team medical clinic which was on the ground floor of the U.S. dormitory building. Our clinic consisted of 14 therapy tables, 10 combination electrical stimulation units, a large hydrocollator unit, an ice machine and two Zenith chiropractic tables (one Hi-Lo and one flexion-distraction). The hours of our training room were 7:00a.m. until 11:00p.m. with one trainer and one physician on call each night. Each trainer and physician were assigned specific sports while I was responsible for any athlete who needed chiropractic care. We all worked 15 hours or more per day, everyday. We were responsible for approximately 700 U.S. athletes.

Working with professionals whose egos were checked at the door and whose common goal was the well being of the athlete was a joy. The foundation of our care was the hands on approach. This hands on approach was made the focus of an NBC national news story on our clinic.

The trainers, many of whom were also P.T.'s, used myofascial techniques, soft tissue and joint mobilization, and stretching techniques. Ultrasound and the many different forms of electrical stimulation complimented this approach. Interferential was often used with microcurrent coming in a close second. Medications were used, but only when absolutely necessary. Hydrocollator packs and ice bags were the daily mainstays.

Most of the injuries we treated were from overuse: tendonitis, sprains and strains. Numerous athletes had facet syndromes, nerve root irritation, and trigger points which I treated with chiropractic adjustments and myofascial techniques. I found that many athletes received regular chiropractic care, especially during the heavy training just before the Olympics. They wanted to continue this care during the games because they felt it helped injuries heal and enhanced their performance and feeling of well-being. Many athletes were introduced to chiropractic care for the first time due to injuries which had not responded to other types of care. Successful results with these injuries caused athletes to tell other athletes; needless to say this kept me busy!

Most of my time was occupied treating athletes in our training room. I did cover synchronized swimming, diving and water polo practices and I traveled to Lake Lanier to treat our rowers. Most of the last few days of the Games I spent with track and field traveling between the warm-up track and the Olympic stadium.

Once again, developing a good rapport with the trainers was the key to my stay. I had worked with 12 of the trainers and one of the MD's while going through the U.S.O.C. program. This left me 20 trainers and 10 MD's with whom I had not worked. They were all familiar with chiropractic care because of the fine DC's with whom they had worked throughout the program. This, combined with excellent results, allowed me to work the way I wanted to during the Games.

One of my patients had the fantastic idea of having the athletes sign the red, white and blue Zenith tables after I treated them. The athletes loved this idea- the more the tables filled with names, the more they wanted to sign them.

Being at the Olympic Games was like being on I.V. epinephrine for one month. One of the biggest thrills for me was marching in the Opening Ceremonies. About 10 of our medical staff found out one hour before Opening Ceremonies that we were chosen to march in them.

The rest of the staff were given tickets to go to the ceremonies. We quickly dressed in the outfit we received at processing and were off to the Olympic Stadium. When I turned the corner and started down the ramp with the rest of the U.S. team, the sight of 85,000 spectators was breathtaking. The crowd was roaring "U.S.A., U.S.A." and the flashbulbs were blazing. The high was incredible.

The dining hall was one of the most interesting areas. An enormous air-conditioned tent was set up to hold 3500 people. To look around and see athletes from 197 countries was fascinating. Each country's athletes would sit together, usually by sport. The multitude of languages made communicating a challenge. Much fun was had with hand gestures and body language.

The events I did see in person were Matt Ghaffari wrestle the Russian Alexander Karelin, Wes Barnett set three American records in 108kg class in weightlifting and Michael Johnson set the world record in the 200m. The entire U.S. delegation went to Closing Ceremonies. Yes, I was one of the thousands of people running around on the stadium field.

There were many special athletes and many special moments. On August 3, 1996 I came back from the Olympic stadium and found this letter on my table:
"Dr. Steve,
Thank you so much for helping me get ready for my race. You are the reason why I'm going home with a gold medal and American record. I seriously don't think I could have performed to my best without your help.
Sheila Taormina" '96 USA Swimming 4x200 Gold Medalist

The first day back in my office I received this letter in the mail:
"Dr. Horwitz,
Closing ceremonies are this evening, wrapping up an incredible Olympic games. One of the best parts of this experience has been the U.S. Medical Staff supporting the athletes. I have never been around such a hard working, professional group of people at any event.
Thank you so much for your time and expertise - I've never felt or fought better, and I credit the great staff at the U.S. medical clinic, particularly your treatments.
Best wishes for the future,
Marisa Pedulla, 52Kg, USA Judo"

Moments like these are what make spending all the hours worth it. Yes, chiropractic sure does work!

Ed Ryan, ATC, the medical coordinator and John Lehtinen, MD, head physician, did a fantastic job at organizing and running our medical staff. Working with these professionals was an honor and privilege. The physicians on our staff were Mark Adams, Daniel Carr, Craig Ferrell, Sean Hanley, John Lalonde, Lawrence Magee, Bruce Mosely, Herb Paris, Brock Schnebel and Carlan Yates. The trainers were Rufi Alday, William Bandy, Wayne Barger, Kim Barrett, Steve Brace, Rigo Carbajal, Joe Fritz, Kerry Gatch, Ernest Golin, Woody Graham, Tony Harris, Emery Hill, Lisa Jesberg, Gina Konin, Tom Koto, Dawn Kurihara, Chip Ladd, Patty Marchak, Skippy Mattson, Sally Mays, Karen McClellan, Ty McSorley, James Miller, Frank Novakoski, Dave Pawlowski, Barbara Pearson, Margaret Peter, Richard Quincy, Denise Richardson, Marcia Roschke, and Rene Shingles.

The chiropractors who will be selected to go through the U.S.O.C. volunteer sports medicine program in the future have a tremendous opportunity to continue to expose the best U.S. athletes to chiropractic care. Give it your all! Each job well done will help chiropractic by leaps and bounds and most importantly, will help the athletes you treat. I am happy to make myself available to any of you who wish to discuss the program.

Citius, Altius, Fortius!

Olympic Facts

The original Olympic Games took place every four years in Olympia, Greece from 776 BC until about 393 AD. There was only one event, the 200 meters, and the prize for the winner was an olive wreath.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin of France revived the ancient Games in 1896. Athens, Greece hosted the first modern Olympic Games in which 245 men representing 14 nations participated. No women participated. The U.S. was first in gold medals and second to Greece in the total medal count.

The official site of the Olympic Games is chosen 6 years prior to that Olympic Games. Each city must submit a bid, which is carefully scrutinized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Atlanta was chosen as the site for the 1996 Summer Olympics in 1990.

The Olympic symbol- five-interlocked rings- represents the union of the five original major continents (Africa, America, Asia, Australia and Europe). The five colors from left to right are blue, black, and red across the top and yellow and green along the bottom. The colors of the rings are thought to have been chosen because at least one of these colors can be found in the flag of every nation.

The Olympic Creed: "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not the win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

The Olympic Motto: Citius, Altius, Fortius - Swifter, Higher, Stronger

As of 2006: the Winter Olympics has seven sports - biatholon, bobsleigh, curling, ice hockey, luge, skating, and sking - and 84 events. The Summer Olympics has 28 sports and about 300 events.

For a sport to be included in the Games it must be played in at least 25 countries and on three continents and must be admitted seven years before its Olympic debut. An event needs to have been included twice in world championships and must be played by men in at least 50 countries or women in at least 35 countries and must wait three years for its debut.

The Games of the XXVIth Olympiad, Atlanta, 1996

Atlanta hosted the largest Olympic Games ever in 1996. There were 10,744 competitors with 7,060 male and 3,684 female--about a 40 percent increase in the number of women compared to Barcelona in 1992. 

It was the largest official program of the Games ever, with 26 sports, 37 disciplines and 271 events presented during 16 days of competition. Total ticket sales of 8.6 million exceeded the previous record for Olympic Games ticket sales by three million. Many estimates for total spectators and visitors during the Olympic period were well above five million people -- more than double the two million expected prior to the start of the Games.

This was really the Olympics for women. We won gold in women's soccer, softball and basketball!

The U.S. won 101 medals: 44 gold, 32 silver and 25 bronze. The closest competitors were Germany with 65 total medals, Russia with 61, China with 50 and Australia with 41. More countries (78) were represented in the medal count than ever before.

Many athletes with asthma like gold medallist Tom Dolan and Jackie Joyner Kersee conquered breathing problems to compete and succeed.

Carl Lewis won his ninth gold medal.

NBC paid $456 million to cover the Olympic Games.

The only other U.S. cities to host a summer Olympic Games were Los Angeles in 1932 and 1984 and St. Louis in 1904.