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Originally published February 9, 2010 at 6:01 PM | Page modified February 10, 2010 at 12:51 AM

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Seattle physician Brian Krabak will do more than treat injuries at Winter Olympics

UW Medical Center's Brian Krabak, who's working at his third Olympics, will be treating injured Olympic athletes at Whistler, but also understands mental aspects of injuries to world-class athletes.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Brian Krabak, a physician of sports medicine at the University of Washington Medical Center, is no stranger to treating fine-tuned, highly motivated athletes.

He has served as team doctor for the Baltimore Orioles and as medical director for 150-mile "extreme races" across deserts, Antarctica and other harsh environments.

And this month Krabak, 42, will volunteer his time and expertise at the Vancouver Olympic Games, just as he did at Athens in 2004 and Salt Lake in 2002.

"I'm very excited about the Olympics," he said. "You know the phrase, 'the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat?' I see my role in those terms. It's a thrill when you can evaluate, treat and counsel an injured athlete and get him back to his sport.

"But the agony is when an athlete sustains a severe injury and you have to tell them their dream is over."

Krabak will be stationed at Whistler's Athlete Village Medical Clinic, treating skiers, bobsledders and other mountain competitors. The Whistler facility can handle about any injury and has facilities for physiotherapy, chiropractors, podiatry, dentistry, eye exams, sports medicine and emergency rooms.

"The clinic has a multidisciplinary team and has a host of equipment for proper evaluation and treatment of athletes," Krabak said. "Time will tell what I'll see, but usually it's acute trauma injuries — ligament tears, concussions, fractures — and medical illnesses, such as colds."

Athletes who suffer extreme trauma will likely be treated in Vancouver, or even Seattle, he said.

Krabak specializes in nonsurgical prevention and treatment of sports-related injuries and got a firsthand taste at the 2002 Salt Lake Games of one injury he likely will be treating.

"The first person at the '02 Olympics I treated was myself. I tore my ACL skiing two days before I was to begin," he said. "It wasn't serious enough to prevent me from working, but I guess you could say I had a better idea what some of my athletes were going through."

Krabak also has learned to appreciate the mental and psychological aspects of sport in his work with "Racing The Planet," a series of multiday ultra-endurance races around the world, the Gobi and Sahara deserts, Chile's Atacama Crossing, and in Antarctica.

Those athletes push themselves to their limits — and sometimes beyond. They pay up to $9,000 to enter. Telling them they are too injured to continue takes both finesse and resolve, he said.

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Krabak, who came to the UW Medical Center from Johns Hopkins, focuses his research on extreme athletes — their medical issues, injuries and the variety of approaches toward fueling and rehabilitation.

He participated in more than two dozen endurance events, but maintains that his work with elite athletes "transfers well" to everyday practice with weekend warriors.

"Whether it's a 16-year-old wrestler wondering if he can wrestle the next day, a (Washington) Husky athlete who needs to return to a game or a recreational runner training for a future marathon, the skill set behind the diagnosis and treatment is the same as what I will be doing at the Games," he said.

"But at the Olympics, there is extreme pressure to get the athlete back to competition."

Richard Seven: 206-464-2241 or rseven@seattletimes.com

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