22 August 2021, by Olaf Tomscheit

Physiotherapy and its importance at the 2021 Olympic Games

Physiotherapists are constantly in action at the Olympic Games. In our interview, Johannes Fetzer tells us which things matter most and how he was able to experience the Olympics up close and in person. 

© Team D, Paul Hüttemann
Tokio Team Hockey Herren 2021

Johannes Fetzer, a sports physiotherapist and osteopath, operates his own practice in Hamburg. His presentations are always a popular attraction at FIBO, and this year the German Hockey Federation engaged his services for the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Johannes Fetzer spent 21 days working on site at the Olympics. When he returned from Tokyo, we sat down with him for a chat to find out more about his experiences.


FIBO: Johannes, just how important do you think physiotherapists are for a team’s success during the Olympics, and how much do they matter to the success of individual athletes?

Johannes: Physiotherapists are generally very much in demand during the Olympics because the athletes are subjected to extreme physical stresses. Germany's men's national field hockey team, ‘my Honamas’, had to play eight physically draining matches in just 13 days, and they did so at temperatures of around 35 degrees.

Do the responsibilities and methods used by physiotherapists in other countries vary?

Johannes: Helping people relax their muscles to speed the regeneration process and removing blockages are pretty much a never-ending job for all physiotherapists. Naturally, priority is given to injuries. Physiotherapy is not valued as highly in Asian countries, such as in China, where they prefer to make use of traditional Chinese medicine. However, whether or not I treat an injury with acupuncture or with a compression bandage really does make a difference.


Do physiotherapists ever have the chance to exchange ideas with their counterparts from other countries during the Olympics?

Johannes: Many of the physiotherapists already know one another, while others get to know each other during the competitions. However, at this year’s event in Tokyo the opportunities to share ideas were very limited on account of the pandemic. It is a shame, because this dialogue is extremely important. Once, during an ATP Masters event in Stuttgart, I spent an entire week working right next to an Italian physiotherapist. Both of us observed the techniques used by the other – this type of exchange is priceless, and it helps people to develop.

© Johannes Fetzer

German House at the Olympics

©Johannes Fetzer, in Tokio 2021

Wouldn't that be a good thing for us to integrate into FIBO, so that we could promote international exchange amongst physiotherapists? 

Johannes: Absolutely – it would be an important step, and I would love to be a part of it.


What did you think of Tokyo in its role as the host?

Johannes: I had already had a chance to work at the Olympic Games, in Athens in 2004. The biggest difference to this year’s event involved the difficulties caused by the pandemic. Even with 40-degree temperatures, physicians had to wear masks, just as we did as physiotherapists. It would have been nicer if this were not necessary. On the positive side, we were not spread across the city, but were all able to stay in the same place. This created a great communal feeling. For example, we once had the opportunity to share a lift with Alexander Zverev. He took the opportunity to congratulate us on reaching the semi-finals, and we wished him all the best for his upcoming match. It was really a great atmosphere.


What does it feel like to experience an Olympics up close?

Johannes: It’s simply an incredible and impressive experience. The friendly and peaceful interaction that takes places amongst the roughly 11,000 athletes and their support staff from so many different countries is an experience unlike any other. You are right at the heart of the biggest sporting event in the world.

FIBO: Thank you, Johannes – we look forward to seeing you in action at FIBO 2022 in Cologne.