London 2012: Irish physio readies medals hopefuls
With a story to match each of the 61 Olympic medal winners he has treated, Irish physiotherapist Gerard Hartmann is keen to add another tale or two in London this summer.
Currently easing the aches and pains of Usain Bolt and Paula Radcliffe, Hartmann has built up a reputation for turning around the careers of fading athletes, making the working class Irish city of Limerick, known for its high crime levels, an unlikely sojourn for the world's sporting elite.
Hartmann is not fazed by the London preparations, given that it will be his sixth Olympic Games after first treating Carl Lewis in Barcelona in 1992.
But pressure on athletes is mounting and their ability to cope with hype, such as that surrounding the world's fastest man Bolt, is something a physio cannot fix.
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'Bolt can pull the 200 metres out of the bag'
However, Hartmann says the triple Olympic gold-medallist's unique ability to stay calm means he is likely to bag a couple more golds in August even if it will be hard for the Jamaican to re-create his explosive world-record form of four years ago.
"He can pull the 200 metres out of the bag. I can't see him being beaten in that," said Hartmann, in his thick and fast Irish brogue, which has not been softened by years of living and working in the United States in his early career.
"He'll probably still win two gold medals. But it's going to be a little more strained," he said.
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'Radcliffe is in with a fighting chance of a medal'
Overlooking an athletics track where the likes of Kelly Holmes, Radcliffe and Colin Jackson have worked with Hartmann, the Irishman relates story after story about famous athletes and sports personalities, to many of whom he has become a trusted friend and mentor.
One such is Britain's Holmes, who Hartmann nurtured back to competition after a career-threatening injury, coaxing her to compete and qualify for the 2000 Sydney Olympics where she won a bronze medal before she hit her peak to win two golds in Athens in 2004.
Hartmann is also treating British distance runner Radcliffe, another athlete who has made a comeback in her career.
After working with her as recently as last week, he says that once the 38-year-old can stay fit for 12 weeks, she is in with a fighting chance of a medal.
Growing up in the rugby and Gaelic football heartland of Ireland's south west, Hartmann could have easily excelled in either sport but forged his name instead in the triathlon and won a scholarship to a US university.
Unable to settle back home in his family's jewellery and optician's business, he left again, this time for Florida to study physiotherapy and qualified two months before his career as an athlete was abruptly ended by a cycling accident.
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'I genuinely believe he's clean, he's a freak of nature'
Hartmann, who has treated 47 world champions, admits to naivety in his early career after working with athletes later linked to performance-enhancing drugs, such as British sprinter Linford Christie.
He says he is now meticulous in vetting athletes before treating them.
"If I have any suspicion that they're on drugs, I don't go there. Now in the early days, I was naive, I was in my early 30s, I worked with athletes who subsequently I found they took drugs," he said.
The problem has worsened, he believes, as pharmacology companies have become more sophisticated and got ahead of the drug testers where he says they will always stay.
However, successful performances in London by athletes like Bolt can help repair the damage done by doping scandals.
"Our biggest thing will be, if Usain Bolt, or the like of Usain Bolt can carry himself through the Olympic Games, win two gold medals, and do it with panache, and go through every testing out there," he said.
"I genuinely believe he's clean, he's a freak of nature."
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