Oh, to be a fly on the wall in Brazil at the FIFA World Cup.
Dr. George Chiampas, emergency room physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, was that and much more at this year’s whirlwind competition in Sao Paulo.
The Chicago native, who also is the Bank of America Chicago Marathon medical director, took an eight-week break from saving lives in the city to travel with the U.S. Men’s National team as its official doctor. He’s been working with the team for eight years.
Chiampas, 43, is the man you saw rushing to the field, along with a trainer, after Jozy Altidore clutched his hamstring while running in full stride during the team’s 2-1 win over Ghana.
He handles everything from such game-time problems as facial or muscular injuries to physical ailments off the field, like stomach aches or respiratory infections. But he also is treated like a member of the team, eating meals with members and experiencing the high emotions of playing in a sport the entire world is watching.
“This group was really unique in the sense that there were very many highs and never too many lows, and I think that’s why they did such a good job,” Chiampas said.
The team didn’t get cocky after the big Ghana win: “I think everybody was excited but at the same time realized there was still a lot of work to be done,” he said.
The sense of camaraderie was evident among the team’s coaches, and older and younger players, he said.
“The staff was unbelievable. People don’t realize that assistant coach Andi Herzog played in Austria and was probably one of the greatest players to play in Austria. [Special adviser] Hans-Hubert “Berti” Vogts was the German national coach. Jurgen Klinsmann would sit down and have coffee with all these people, these players and you would hear about the World Cup in 1980, 1984, 1988, and just to have that insight for the team and for the country and for the players, I think was an exciting time.”
The world, especially the U.S., is reminded every four years of soccer’s physical demands.
“I think that cardiovascularly these guys are probably the fittest athletes in the world, without a doubt. Typically their legs, the thighs, quads and glutes, are probably the strongest parts of their bodies, and their core,” Chiampas said. “That is absolutely mandatory with regards to the amount of kicking.
“They’re also very agile, very flexible. These guys are extremely attuned to their bodies, especially when something is not feeling right. You have to feel 100 percent at this sport. You can’t feel 80 or 70 percent because, again, you’re expected to play 90 minutes,” he said.
And the flopping that many teams are accused of? Chiampas doesn’t quite believe those injuries aren’t real.
“Guys are running at full speeds and definitely they get cut across the foot. Most of those spikes are very, very thin across the top of their foot,” Chiampas said. “If you get caught with that spike, those tend to hurt quite a bit for those 30 to 60 seconds after. It’s extremely painful and it just takes some time for the players to say ‘Hey, I’m OK. It’s not significant and I can keep playing.’ ”
Being the team doctor was enough to get him hooked on soccer.
“I grew up with American football and basketball. I played high school football. But I have to say, the past 10 years, my TV automatically goes to soccer. I’ve kind of got the bug.”