Courtesy of U.S. Lacrosse

On March 8, Margot Putukian ’84 received a letter in the mail from Jonathan Finnoff. The chief medical officer of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee was inviting her to serve as a Team USA medical physician for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

During her time as an undergraduate at Yale, Putukian was a standout soccer player. A four-year varsity forward for the Blue and White, Putukian also spent the spring of her first year playing for the women’s lacrosse team. While an ACL tear earlier that year partially sidelined Putukian during the soccer season, her time spent in the training room during rehabilitation inspired her career as a sports physician, she told the News. 

“I probably wouldn’t have gone [to Yale] if it weren’t for the opportunity to play soccer and that was, still is, how I defined myself: as a soccer player,” Putukian said in a Zoom interview with the News. “It was my experiences in the training room that made me start thinking about a career in medicine and sports medicine.”

On April 1, Putukian will retire after 17 years as Princeton’s director of athletic medicine, but she will continue to serve as the chief medical officer for Major League Soccer, a role she stepped into in 2018. She has been a team physician for U.S. Soccer since 1994 and was a team physician for U.S. Lacrosse from 2010 to 2018.

Putukian’s former coach, Chico Chacurian, passed away in Feb. 2019. (Courtesy of Margot Putukian)

While 2022 will be her first year attending the Olympics on the medical team, it will not be her first introduction to Team USA.

Putukian explained that the USOPC invites volunteer medical professionals for two-week stints at its official training centers in Colorado Springs, Lake Placid and Chula Vista. The requirements to apply to be a volunteer are quite extensive, and there is currently a waitlist. Based on the committee’s assessment of a physician during the two-week rotation, the USOPC may extend an invite to volunteer at the Games.

In 1995, the Olympic Committee invited Putukian to the Colorado Springs training center, and later, during her residency, she spent another two weeks at the Lake Placid facility. Putukian said she also worked at the San Diego “Bank of America Cup” in 2000.

“I hadn’t done anything for a long time and the U.S. Olympic Committee went through a bunch of transitions,” Putukian said, referring in part to the recent hiring of chief medical officer Finnoff. “[Finnoff was] the one who reached out and said, ‘Hey, would you like to be an alternate physician for Tokyo?’ And I was like, ‘Are you kidding, that would be phenomenal. I would love the opportunity.’”

About a month later, she said, Finnoff reached out again to offer Putukian a spot on the Beijing Winter Olympic team, “not as an alternate, as a definite doc.”

Putukian, whose accolades and prior experience with Team USA landed her the job, is board certified in both internal medicine and sports medicine.

“Your acumen and past successful involvements supporting the medical needs of Team USA has led me to have great confidence in your medical skills, professionalism and desire to support Team USA through the Olympic and Paralympic movements,” Finnoff wrote in his offer letter, read aloud by Putukian over Zoom.

Following her retirement from Princeton, Putukian is “not exactly sure what role lies ahead,” but not having a full-time job will allow her to “put more time into Major League Soccer, which has been a thrill.”

“You’re catching me at a very interesting time in my career,” Putukian said. “With the past year, and the changes for the Ivy League with sports [referring to four canceled seasons] … There’s been a fair bit of time where I’ve not been working as a team physician, doing what I used to do at Princeton. It’s allowed me an opportunity to reflect on what I want to do moving forward. You know, do I want to continue in this role? Or do I want to do something different and explore, as a friend of mine said, explore some passion projects.”

Putukian contributed a total of 47 goals and assists during her four years at Yale. (Courtesy of Margot Putukian)

One such passion project Putukian is involved in — the Yale Women’s Athletic Network — helps her stay connected to multiple generations of Yale women. YWAN started in 2018 “to see how Yale’s female athletes could be included as part of the celebrations around 50WAY150,” Maura Grogan, one of the groups founders, said.

“We hope it will be the platform for supporting Yale women athletes for the next 50 years,” she added.

At Yale, Putukian was an all-time scoring leader for the Blue and White, despite her “career [being] marred by injury.” Three-time All-Ivy selection Elizabeth Traver ’84 can still recall Putukian’s scream reverberating off the brick wall of Coxe Cage as she tore her ACL during a match against Princeton. In an interview, Traver described her classmate as a “terrific teammate.”

“Really solid, dependable,” Traver told the News. “She had great finesse. I definitely envied her finesse on the field. I think I had more, like, brawn, but she was super precise, a very skilled player. It was fun to play with her.”

Putukian was inducted into the New England Soccer Hall of Fame in 2004.

Margaret Hedeman | margaret.hedeman@yale.edu

Correction, March 30: An earlier version of this article stated that Putukian worked at a U.S. Olympic festival before the annual event ended in 1995. She said the sports festival she worked at was actually the “Bank of America Cup” in 2000.