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Robert Watanabe; Orthopedic Surgeon


Robert Watanabe, an orthopedic surgeon who advocated sprinting for physical fitness and won five gold medals in the Senior Olympics, has died of cancer. He was 66.

Watanabe died Wednesday at St. John's Hospital Medical Center in Santa Monica where he had practiced sports medicine with an emphasis on the aging.

He began sprinting as a teen-ager living in San Luis Obispo, and used it as an outlet for anger and frustration when his Japanese-American family was interned in Arizona during World War II.

"I don't recommend sprinting for everyone," he told the Los Angeles Times as he neared 60. "Slow, rhythmic running is a safer exercise for most people. . . . (Sprinting) has risks for anyone past 40."

When his family was allowed to move east, he went to Detroit where he got a job in a munitions plant and enrolled in Wayne State University. After a year, he enlisted in the Army, running with its Olympic track team. He then went to UCLA to study medicine.

"I felt guilty about my lingering bitterness at the way we'd been treated," he told The Times in 1985. "Then the guilt feelings turned into a real desire to help others. Medicine seemed the answer."

Watanabe also was an accomplished amateur photographer and helped to make training films illustrating kinds of treatment in orthopedic surgery. He was asked by UCLA and the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons to help devise teaching techniques in medicine.

The doctor also excelled at woodcarving, claiming "there's a close connection between orthopedics and working in wood. . . . The orthopedist works with power drills and a wide range of instruments which are very similar to those used in cabinetry."

Watanabe is survived by his son, Craig, and daughter, Diane; his mother, Misao, and his four sisters, Maude Hirano of Castaic, Kathleen Nomura of Santa Barbara, and Florence Nishimoto and Pauline Endo, of Hilo.

Funeral services are scheduled at 7:30 tonight at Westwood United Methodist Church, 10497 Wilshire Blvd.

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