Dr. Savio L-Y. Woo Is Awarded Gold Medal

Serena S. Chan Saw, MS, Rebecca L. Engel, M.S., I.M. Parsons, IV, MD

At the XVIII Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, Dr. Savio L-Y. Woo, Ferguson Professor and Director of the Musculoskeletal Research Center, was awarded the International Olympic Committee’s 1998 Olympic Gold Medal for Sports Science, endowed by Parke-Davis. Nominated by Department Chairman Freddie Fu, the Olympic Prize recognizes Dr. Woo's untiring contributions to the science of Sports Medicine.

The Olympic Prize, established by the International Olympic Committee Medical Commission and endowed by Parke-Davis, was inaugurated in 1996 at the XXVII Summer Olympiad in Atlanta, GA. The recipient of this award receives a Certificate of Excellence, a prize of $250,000, and for the first time, an Olympic Gold Medal. This award honors outstanding scientific research related to human movement, physical exercise and sport and is bestowed upon a researcher who significantly impacts the science of sports medicine for the betterment of human kind. The selection committee, chaired by Dr. Benno Nigg, is comprised of a diversity of prestigious members from the biological, medical, physical, and psychological sciences, including cell biologist and Nobel laureate Dr. Christian de Duve.

Our in-depth investigation of complex functions of articular soft tissues has provided scientific data which has been a driving force for advancements in surgical treatment of ligament injuries. This outstanding jury has recognized our long history of groundbreaking research in sports medicine and our novel and numerous contributions to understanding both joint biomechanics and principles of rehabilitation.

On January 13, 1998, Dr. Woo traveled to New York City for the formal announcement of this great award. That morning, together with Olympian and orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Eric Heiden, Dr. Woo was interviewed by representatives of television and print media. Later that evening, he received the prize of $250,000 at a grand black-tie ceremony in his honor at the Waldorf~Astoria Hotel. Both S.E. Juan Antonio Samaranch, President of the International Olympic Committee, and Prince Alexandre de Merode, Chairman of the IOC Medical Commission, were present to honor Dr. Woo’s contributions.

The evening began with a formal cocktail reception at which the gold medal was displayed before it was brought to Japan. The party then moved to the banquet hall where the formal program began. After entertainment by a Broadway group, Mr. Anthony Wild, the President of Parke-Davis, spoke about his company’s commitment to the Olympic Movement and the IOC Olympic Prize. Dr. Eric Heiden then spoke about his personal motivation to advance the science of sports medicine. President Samaranch commented about the Olympic Movement and the importance of the IOC Olympic prize. Prince Alexandre de Merode enlightened the audience about the creation and the goal of the IOC Olympic Prize prior to revealing Dr. Woo as this year’s winner. Before Dr. Woo was invited to the podium, a video was shown summarizing his work. Mr. LJR de Vink, the Chief Operating Officer of Warner-Lambert, concluded by commending the partnership of Warner-Lambert and Parke-Davis with the IOC and wishing the athletes success in Nagano. The guests then enjoyed a spectacular five course dinner.

In the speech that was given in New York, Dr. Woo acknowledged nine groups of people of equal important that have made an impact on his life. Among the nine groups, acknowlegements were made to:
  • To my nominator, Dr. Freddie Fu, you deserve special recognition. You have been a distinguished colleague, collaborator, and friend.

  • To my colleagues from U. Pitt and UCSD. Thank you. We have done the significant work that brought us here.

  • To my students that I have had the priviledge to be working with over the years. Thank you for inspiring me and keeping me fully occupied. Pattie will also thank you because she didn't have to put up with me as much. Your calling me a good teacher is very important to me - for merely being labeled as a good researcher would be my greatest disappointment.

  • And lastly, to my two role models. Professor Y.C. Fung, who is unquestionably the "Father of Biomechanics". I still aspire to become a quality educator, investigator, and philosopher like him. My father-in-law, Mr. Antonio Cheong. He is now 83 years old. (I would like my father-in-law to stand to be recognized.) He has taught me altruism. At the crossroads of benefiting one's self or his colleagues, he has always chosen the latter.

After an exciting trip to New York, news of Dr. Woo’s award reached the print and broadcast media as well as the world wide web. If you visit the archives of www.annonline.com, you will find that Ann Devlin, an on-line talk show host, interviewed Dr. Woo on January 14, 1998. In addition, Dr. Woo was on the front cover of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and featured in USA Today, The New York Times, the Associated Press, and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He received further coverage in Pittsburgh neighborhood papers, including The North Hills News Record, the Herald, and the Valley News Dispatch, as well as university papers including the Pitt News, the University Times and the UPMC Health System EXTRA!. News of Dr. Woo’s award reached as far as China’s World Journal! Broadcast coverage of Dr. `Woo's award was aired on CNN, Pittsburgh’s local affiliates WPGH-TV (FOX), WPXI-TV (NBC), and KDKA-TV (CBS), as well as dozens of other stations around the country.

Before Dr. and Mrs. Woo embarked on their trip to Japan, the MSRC had its own celebration in honor of Dr. Woo at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Jun-Kyo Suh. Everyone who attended brought a dish that represented their home country. We were enjoyed a wonderful feast which included bread formed into the shape of the five Olympic rings.

On January 30, 1998, Dr. and Mrs. Woo traveled to Nagano, Japan as guests of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), to attend the XVIII Winter Olympic Games. On February 2, before the 107th Meeting of the IOC Congress, Dr. Woo received the Nagano Game’s first Gold Medal, a special Olympic Medal designed for this prestigious award by Swiss artist Hans Erni. The medal features an active athlete inside the head of a scientist, symbolic of the relationship between the sports scientist and the athlete. The reverse side is engraved with Dr. Woo’s name, the five Olympic rings, Nagano’s national symbol of a blossom tree as well as the inscription, "Nagano 1998." Dr. Woo received not only the first Olympic medal of the 1998 games, but the only Olympic medal given to a non-Olympic athlete. The Crown Prince & Princess of Japan attended Dr. Woo’s award ceremony.

Dr. and Mrs. Woo attended the Opening Ceremonies where they sat just 15 feet from Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan. For the duration of their stay in Nagano, Dr. and Mrs. Woo were each given an all-access pass which provided admission to all Olympic events without the need to purchase tickets. At each venue, they were granted priority seating in the VIP lounge. Furthermore, they had on-call access to a chauffeur and car equipped with GPS. Dr. and Mrs. Woo watched Picabo Street win her gold medal in the Super G and Tara Lipinsky skate at her practice sessions. They were able to meet many famous royalty, such as Juan Carlos, the King of Spain, and Prince Albert and Princess Anne of Monaco.

Dr. and Mrs. Woo plan to donate the award money to several nonprofit research and educational institutions, including the Orthopaedic Research Laboratories Alumni Council (ORLAC) which educates young investigators. They believe that through their contribution, future generations of investigators can advance the fields of biomechanics, sports medicine, and rehabilitation to an even higher level of excellence. Dr. Woo is excited and proud that the combined dedication, effort, and ingenuity of everyone at the Musculoskeletal Research Center and Department of Orthopaedic Surgery here at the University of Pittsburgh and past members of the Orthopaedic Biomechanics Laboratories at the University of California, San Diego over the past 28 years have culminated in such high international esteem and is now receiving such superior recognition.