SI Vault
Dan Levin
October 19, 1981
Dr. Robert Arnot sleeps three hours a night to have time to board-sail, speed-skate, run, bicycle, doctor, dance, romance and play the trumpet
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October 19, 1981

What's Up? Doc.

Dr. Robert Arnot sleeps three hours a night to have time to board-sail, speed-skate, run, bicycle, doctor, dance, romance and play the trumpet

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"It sounded like another put-on, but he was funny, really off the wall. He said, I might be over tonight,' and I thought. 'Sure,' but that night, at dinner, he called. 'I'm stuck in Newport,' he said.

"An hour later he called again. 'I can't get down,' he said. 'The East Hampton Airport is fogged in.' Minutes later he called a fourth time and said, 'I'm going to buzz your house.' I'd hardly hung up when I heard this terrible racket outside.

"Anyway, the next day I bumped into him. He was with a very young girl, and the next morning they took off" at dawn, heading for a bicycle race in New Hampshire. I figured he was really nuts. But that night he called again and said, 'I'd like to see you.' He flew in, and he's continued to fly in, from all over the East. It was obvious that he didn't have a conventional medical practice. It took me six months to really understand what he does and how he'd gotten to do it."

Of course Arnot doesn't have a conventional medical practice. He rarely has a conventional day. As a Notre Dame student, he spent his sophomore and senior years at the universities of Innsbruck and Fribourg, respectively, learning German and skiing. The school called it a foreign study program, and apparently Arnot worked some studying in; Notre Dame did give him a B.A., in 1970, in professional studies. He then entered Dartmouth Med School. In the spring of his first year there it was announced that the 109 days he had skied over the winter, at the Dartmouth Skiway, was the second highest total of that season. For anyone, including ski bums.

"He certainly wasn't a grind," says Dr. Carleton Chapman, dean of the medical school at the time. "His mind and body required action. He couldn't spend 12 hours a day in the library, as you have to do to get the highest grades. But he was very intelligent and extremely capable, and I'm proud of him."

In 1972 Arnot entered McGill University in Montreal for his last two years of med school. His professor of pathology was Dr. Huntington (Skip) Sheldon, who also served as trainer for the McGill ski team. "Bob was a bright, thoughtful and energetic fellow," Sheldon recalls. "At the end of his first year his teammates presented him with a statue of a skier made of hot dogs—the Biggest Hot Dog of the Year Award. Bob had a huge sense of adventure. He'd ski down any hill, but he'd rarely get to the bottom without falling."

In June of 1974 Arnot received his medical degree from McGill and three weeks later returned to New Hampshire, where he completed two of the customary three years as a resident in internal medicine at the Dartmouth-affiliated Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital in Hanover.

In the summers of 1975 and 1976 members of the U.S. national crew and cross-country ski teams trained at Dartmouth, and all the athletes seemed to be talking about sports technology, about lactic acid and oxygen-consumption analyses and of other tests that could lead to improved athletic performance.

Marty Hall, then the U.S. cross-country skiing coach, was talking science, too; his skiers, he told Arnot, needed some sort of laboratory. Arnot was even more interested than Hall—and less knowledgeable. He had never even taken a course in sports physiology. He promptly put in two weeks at the Harvard Medical School library, reading "all the hot journals" from the last 10 years, and, in January of 1978, to further acquaint himself with the subject, he set off on a tour of the best sport science laboratories in 10 different European countries. For the next 22 months he would commute to and from Lake Placid, applying his knowledge in a sports-medicine laboratory he set up there.

Three hundred fifty thousand dollars worth of equipment had been delivered to Lake Placid, under circumstances that were to constitute another chapter in the Olympic confusion of the 1980 Winter Games. Manufacturers had loaned or donated equipment, some on the assumption that Arnot's lab was an official Olympic facility, and indeed Arnot had reason to believe that it would be. He had been given a go-ahead by members of the original Lake Placid Organizing Committee to take a second European trip in June of 1978. By the time he returned, that committee was dissolving, but Arnot continued with the project—a decision that ultimately cost him $150,000 of his own money and enveloped him in a cloud of controversy, because the laboratory was not an official Olympic facility. When Arnot's name arises in conventional medical circles, cries of "charlatan" and "promoter" still fill the air, though the epithets are ordinarily qualified by the adjective "gifted" and the noun "genius."

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