Last Updated: Thursday, 25 January 2007, 06:36 GMT
Sport’s Mr Fix-it
By Simon Austin
The small town of Vail, Colorado, is an unlikely place to find one of the key figures in British sport.
Nestled high in the snow-capped Rocky mountains, the resort is home to only 5,000 inhabitants and seems a world away from such sporting crucibles as Old Trafford or Lord’s.
But in the middle of this ski-mad town is a gleaming, hi-tech complex where Britain’s sporting hopes sometimes rest.
It is here that Dr Richard Steadman, the most famous knee surgeon in the world, saved Alan Shearer’s football career in 2000 and recently carried out operations on Newcastle striker Michael Owen and England fast bowler Simon Jones.
Steadman’s laid-back demeanour gives little hint of his lofty status, but his office, which is lined with photographs, posters and shirts signed by some of the most famous sportsmen in the world, certainly does.
A photograph of Alan Shearer bears the message “Just when I was getting frustrated with the pain, you took it away. Many, many thanks”.
WHO’S VISITED STEADMAN?
American Football: Dan Marino
Football: Ronaldo, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Alessandro del Piero, Alan Shearer, Lothar Matthaus, Michael Owen
Cricket: Michael Vaughan, Simon Jones, Ashley Giles
Tennis: Martina Navratilova
A Ruud van Nistelrooy shirt has the words “Thank you for giving me back my dream” inked on the front.
And a framed message from Martina Navratilova reads “Thanks for putting a smile on my face, my heart and my knees”.
Steadman, 68, also claims the remarkable record of having operated on every US skier to have won an Olympic medal since 1978.
Yet he is modest when explaining why so many sporting luminaries have sought his help over the years.
“The success rate is the thing that makes people choose a physician,” he told BBC Sport.
"We do have a very good success rate, and with recognisable patients. It’s not to say I’m a better surgeon, it’s to do with the system we’ve created here.
"We have a good situation for surgery, an excellent rehabilitation area and there’s some advantage to the fact we’re fairly remote.
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"The only interest when a famous athlete is here is in their recovery. There aren’t people bothering them because of their status.
"We also have a major research foundation that has a tie-in to our clinic. So, not only do we do the surgery, we also do the follow-up.
“If someone has a problem, we’re able to say what their chances of success with surgery are, relying on the data we build up.”
Steadman’s involvement with the world’s sporting elite began in the 1970s, when he worked with the US ski team.
"I lived in Lake Tahoe, California, and was taking care of the US ski team. I started to take care of them and built a reputation from that.
"Over the years it built to NFL football and other sports and in 1990 I moved to Vail, Colorado, and had the opportunity to take care of European footballers and athletes from almost every sport.
“It was a progression, not an overnight success. The word of mouth made others want to come here.”
Steadman says patients like the remoteness of Vail
Professor Nicola Massulli, one of Britain’s leading sports surgeons, has said the income enjoyed by US surgeons like Steadman is “like winning the lottery every year”.
Yet Steadman insists it is not only wealthy sports stars who are able to afford his services.
“The percentage of people I work with who are athletic is almost 100%, but only 20% of them are major athletes,” he said.
"It’s important to not just operate on people who are famous, but also people who are trying to maintain their lifestyle.
“Our goal is to keep people active through research and education. I get a lot of ‘regular people’ coming here from all over the world.”
Steadman is a frequent visitor to England, where he catches up with patients such as Owen, who he says will return at “the very highest level”.
Yet, remarkably for someone who has worked with so many of the country’s top footballers, he has never been to a Premiership match.
“It’s certainly a goal of mine and something I must get round to doing,” he says with a smile.