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Massage Today
August, 2004, Vol. 04, Issue 08

Massage to Play Prominent Role at Athens Games

By Editorial Staff

The Olympic Games will return to its roots in Athens, Greece, Aug. 13-29, 2004, wherein over 10,000 athletes from 202 countries will compete in 28 sporting events, and 4,000 athletes from 145 countries will compete in 20 events in the Paralympic Games, Sept.


This is the first Olympics to be held in Greece since the games' revival in 1896 from ancient times, making this year's event especially poignant; on hand to support the athletes as they compete for the gold, silver and bronze medals will be massage therapists from all over the world. Two of the organizations that worked to facilitate massage therapy at the Olympic Games include the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and the Athens Health Services Sports Massage Team 2004 (AHSSMT).

A 46-person volunteer medical staff composed of medical doctors, certified athletic trainers, chiropractors, pharmaceutical experts and two massage therapists, has been organized by the USOC to work exclusively with the U.S. athletes at the sports venues, Olympic Village, and the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Sara M. Delano, CMT, massage therapy coordinator for the USOC, and one of two massage therapists appointed to the medical team, is thrilled to be a part of this unique experience.2,3

"Working on elite athletes of this caliber is a great honor and joy for me. Their dedication and desire to excel and perform encourages me as a massage therapist to excel at my job and do my part in helping them recover, and prepare for training and competition," she said.3

To qualify for the USOC medical team, massage therapists were required to have a minimum of 750 hours of education and five years of massage experience, a significant portion of which had to include sports massage. Additionally, massage therapy applicants were required to volunteer at one of three Olympic training camps, as well as other Olympic training events, where they were further evaluated and then invited to participate in Summer or Winter Olympic Games. Christine Tan, CMT, of New York City, was one such applicant invited to participate in the Summer Games as part of the USOC team.3

While the USOC medical team will work exclusively with U.S. athletes, volunteers with the AHSSMT, an international massage team made up of therapists from 18 countries, including England, China, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, Russia and the U.S., will have the opportunity to work with athletes from around the globe.4,5

Massachusetts massage therapist Anna Gammal, a native of Greece and former 2nd and 3rd National Champion of Greece in 3,000- and 10,000-meter runs, respectively, played a key role in organizing the AHSSMT, a process that took two years.4,5,6

The Athens 2004 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, which is responsible for coordinating all aspects of the Athens games, was initially unenthusiastic about including massage therapy in the fold of athlete medical care; however, persistence reigned supreme. Gammal joined forces with CORE Institute founder and second-generation Greek, George Kousaleos, and together the two formed a committee of experienced international massage therapists to include three additional members with strong ties to the Olympics: Bryan Buckley, a team leader of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games; Roger Olbrot, Director of the Winter Sports Massage Team at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics; and Stanley Mavridis, also a native of Greece and a leading sports massage therapist in London, where he works with champion track and field athletes.4,5,6

The committee drafted a proposal and presented it to the Athens Organizing Committee. The proposal was accepted, and the AHSSMT became the official international massage team accepted by the organizing committee to provide massage at the Games.

Although many countries like the U.S. will provide their own massage teams, and some athletes will likely have private massage therapists traveling with them, several thousand other athletes will not have immediate access to massage therapy. These are the athletes the AHSSMT will work with.4,6

Out of over 600 applicants, the AHSSMT was limited to teams of 100 therapists for the Olympics and 60 for the Paralympics for logistical reasons. These therapists will be assigned to work at the training venues, as well as the various sporting events and athlete residential areas; moreover, Gammal was quick to emphasize that the AHSSMT will work only with Olympic athletes, not on VIPs, family members, or members of the media, as was the case at the Sydney Games in 2000.4

Additionally, because therapists are volunteering their services, the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) has agreed to provide an honorarium of up to $500 to each professional active member who is a part of the AHSSMT.7

Because of their shared heritage, Gammal, Kousaleos and Mavridis are especially excited to see the Olympics return to Athens. "My maternal grandmother was a massage therapist from Greece," says Kousaleos reflectively, "The idea of bringing massage back to Athens is important at this point in time when there are no [massage] standards, no professional training."

Kousaleos and the other AHSSMT committee members hope that their efforts to bring massage to the Olympics will help raise awareness about the important role massage therapy plays in medicine and open the door to having massage recognized as a viable form of health care, as well as mandatory inclusion in the medical care offered at future Olympic Games.4,5

"It's about time massage therapy was known," asserts Gammal. "Thousands of years ago, the Greeks used massage therapy to treat their athletes."

Kousaleos agrees. "I'm hoping this is the beginning," he says, "of reinstating massage to one of its birthplaces."


  1. The official Web site of the Athens 2004 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
  2. Press release. "USOC names 46-person medical staff for Olympic Games in Athens." U.S. Olympic Committee. July 6, 2004.
  3. E-mail interview with Sara Delano and Massage Today. July 14, 2004.
  4. Phone interview with Anna Gammal and Massage Today. July 14, 2004.
  5. Phone interview with George Kousaleos and Massage Today. July 19, 2004.
  6. Athens Health Services Sports Massage Team (AHSSMT) 2004 Web site.
  7. Press release. "AMTA supporting massage at Olympics." July 6, 2004.


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