Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher of the U-M Health System won’t be competing at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. But he’ll be bringing his skis for possible medical-related duties on the slopes.
Kutcher joins others with U-M ties working or competing at the Winter Olympics, which begin Thursday in Sochi, Russia. They range from athletes favored in their sport to a network TV executive.
Ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, U-M juniors, are considered top contenders for Olympic gold. “When we won the silver medal at the last Olympics, it was our first medal on the world stage. I think it gave us a lot of confidence, which over the last four years has really led to some great moments. I think if we can go out there and do our job we have a solid chance to win,” said White.
He and Davis are competing Saturday, Sunday, and Feb. 16 and 17. A brother-and-sister pair, freshman Maia and sophomore Alex Shibutani, are competing in ice dancing at their first Olympics, while 2013 graduate Evan Bates is also competing in ice dancing.
Three former members of the men’s hockey team are representing various countries in Sochi. Brian Lebler, who played on the U-M team from 2007-10 is competing for Austria. Carl Hagelin, 2008-11, is on the Swedish team, while Max Pacioretty, 2008, is on the United States team.
“I think it’s a tribute to Michigan and for all our athletes that end up performing, whether it’s the Winter Olympics or Summer Olympics. I’m happy for the kids and it’s good for our programs to be respected at that level,” said Red Berenson, U-M head hockey coach.
“Max, who’s been playing for the Montreal Canadians, is playing on the U.S. team. He left us to turn pro after one year. Carl Hagelin is on the Swedish hockey team. Carl (New York Rangers) was a great player here; Carl and Max were freshmen together. I was really glad for Carl and Max going to the Olympics, they played well for us,” Berenson said.
Other U-M connections to this year’s Winter Olympics include UMHS sports neurologist and concussion expert Kutcher, serving as the U.S. team’s neurologist. He will stand ready to rush to the slopes, rinks and halfpipes to test athletes for signs of a concussion, and to work with other medical professionals to coordinate care.
“Growing up, I played hockey and thought about what it might be like to go as an athlete,” Kutcher said. “To be finally able to go as a physician for the team is an incredible opportunity. It’s very exciting.”
He worked almost two years as a neurologist for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, helping it develop policies and procedures for athletes suspected to have a concussion, and took care of other brain and neurological health issues.
He heads the U-M NeuroSport clinic, is an associate professor of neurology at the Medical School, and has earned a worldwide reputation for sports neurology. Kutcher is a team physician for U-M Athletics, and co-led the development of the American Academy of Neurology’s new concussion guidelines.
“My primary responsibility is to make sure all of our athletes are participating safely and that we have their health first and foremost in our minds throughout the games,” he said.
Kutcher also serves as neurology consultant to the National Hockey League Players’ Association and the USA Hockey development program. In his NHLPA role, he’ll be available to assess any NHL player participating in the Sochi games, including dozens playing for other nations.
U-M also is represented behind the television camera. Alumnus and U-M golf team member Gary Zenkel is president of NBC Olympics.