Sue Bird
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Sue Bird looks ahead to ‘likely last Olympics’

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Sue Bird knows the time has come after three Olympic gold medals, two WNBA titles and at least eight surgeries.

“I’m at the end of my career,” the 35-year-old point guard said last month. “This is more than likely going to be my last Olympics. When you get older, you start looking back on your career more and you want to leave some sort of legacy and to be a fourth time Olympic gold medalist wouldn’t be so bad.”

There was a time when Bird didn’t seem so sure about the Rio Games.

It came most memorably in a group NBC on-court interview with Craig Sager, moments after she helped the U.S. women to their fourth straight gold medal at the London Games, their 41st straight win at the Olympics dating to 1992.

Sager made U.S. (and former University of Connecticut) teammates Diana Taurasi and Asjha Jones commit to a run for Rio. Then he asked Bird, “How about you? You in for the long haul?”

“Oh mannnnn,” Bird said, shaking her head.

That drew Taurasi to extend her right hand and say, “We’re going to Rio.”

Bird accepted the handshake and, with a little less excitement than Taurasi, say, “We’re going to Rio,” and throw up her right hand.

Bird started every game at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, after a lesser role behind veterans Dawn Staley and Shannon Johnson at Athens 2004.

Bird didn’t seem too concerned about the competition to crack next year’s 12-woman roster, saying she thought it was tougher to make the 2004 team two years out of college.

“It’s tricky,” Bird said. “Myself and [London Olympian] Lindsay Whalen are two of the point guards. And now it’s kind of like, all right, who’s next. And while there is some depth there, people that are successful in the WNBA right now at that position, none have USA Basketball experience.”

Bird again started every game at the 2014 World Cup alongside Taurasi in the backcourt, with Whalen seeing plenty of time off the bench.

The fourth guard, 2014 WNBA No. 2 overall pick Odyssey Sims, played the fewest minutes per game of the 12-woman World Cup roster (5.2 minutes).

The U.S. went undefeated through the tournament to clinch an Olympic berth.

There are more young guards in contention.

Skylar Diggins, 25 and a two-time WNBA All-Star, was one of the final cuts for the 2014 World Cup team. Courtney Vandersloot and Danielle Robinson, both 26, joined Bird on the roster for an October European tour.

“It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out,” Bird said. “There’s Courtney Vandersloot, Danielle Robinson, and then you have two players in Skylar Diggins and Odyssey Sims who aren’t traditional point guards but can play the spot, so that’s like a route they could go. … Right now I could probably sit you down and talk about all the other positions, and you could probably name like two or three players at each that you know, oh yeah, they’ll probably be on the national team. But the point guard spot is a little different.”

Bird will be nearly 36 come August. Two U.S. women’s basketball players have played at an Olympics at an older age — Teresa Edwards in 2000 and Lisa Leslie in 2008.

Edwards and that 2000 team scrimmaged a group of younger players, including Bird, in Hawaii leading up to the Sydney Games.

“She was ahead of everybody at that position,” said Edwards, the only U.S. basketball player to make five Olympics.

Rio could be a fitting end for Bird given it may also be the U.S. finale for coach Geno Auriemma, who also guided Bird at Connecticut.

It was Auriemma who came back from being an assistant coach at Sydney 2000 and told Bird, then a UConn junior, if you play your cards right, you could be on the 2004 Olympic team.

UConn teammate Taurasi, who is two years younger than Bird and a sushi lover, isn’t ruling out Tokyo 2020. She might want to bring Bird with her.

“I can see if I can change her mind again,” Taurasi said.

MORE: Skylar Diggins reflects on getting cut from Worlds team

Alex Zanardi, auto racer turned Paralympic champion, has 5-hour surgery to rebuild face after crash

Alex Zanardi
AP
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SIENA, Italy (AP) — Italian auto racing champion-turned-Paralympic gold medalist Alex Zanardi underwent a five-hour surgery Monday to reconstruct his face following a crash on his handbike last month.

It was the third major operation that Zanardi has had since he crashed into an oncoming truck near the Tuscan town of Pienza on June 19 during a relay event.

Dr. Paolo Gennaro of Santa Maria alle Scotte Hospital in Siena said the operation required three-dimensional digital and computerized technology that was “made to measure” for Zanardi.

“The complexity of the case was fairly unique, although this is a type of fracture that we deal with routinely,” Gennaro said in a hospital statement.

After the surgery, Zanardi was returned to the intensive care unit in a medically induced coma.

“His condition remains stable in terms of his cardio-respiratory status and grave in terms of his neurological status,” the hospital medical bulletin read.

The 53-year-old Zanardi, who lost both of his legs in an auto racing crash nearly 20 years ago, has been on a ventilator since the crash.

Zanardi suffered serious facial and cranial trauma, and doctors have warned of possible brain damage.

Zanardi won four gold medals and two silvers at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics. He also competed in the New York City Marathon and set an Ironman record in his class.

Last month, Pope Francis penned a handwritten letter of encouragement assuring Zanardi and his family of his prayers. The pope praised Zanardi as an example of strength amid adversity.

Shawn Johnson East shares struggles with body image, prescription drugs

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Shawn Johnson East, a 2008 Olympic gymnastics champion, detailed past struggles with body image and prescription drugs and reflected on her eating disorder as an elite athlete, to show there is hope to others in difficult situations.

“It all started with pregnancy and having my daughter,” East, who had daughter Drew in October, said on TODAY on Monday. “I had so many people asking me questions about how did pregnancy affect you mentally and how did you get your body back after having your daughter. I couldn’t answer that without giving a greater and a larger story.”

East first went public about her undiagnosed teenage eating disorders in 2015, three years after retiring from the sport. She said she limited herself to 700 calories per day and didn’t tell her parents.

In a June YouTube video, Johnson said she also binged and purged, including while dating future husband Andrew in the mid-2010s. And that she had depression and anxiety in 2011, when she returned to competition for the first time since the Beijing Games.

“I thought it would fix all of my problems,” East said of returning to gymnastics for a 2012 Olympic bid.

When East won “Dancing with the Stars” in 2009, she “hit a very low spot” going through puberty on national TV. She said she gained 15 pounds after the 2008 Olympics and started taking medications and drugs “to look like I did at the Olympics.” It included fad diets, diuretics and a three-week stretch of eating nothing but raw vegetables.

“Most pain of my entire life because I couldn’t digest anything,” she said.

At some point in 2011, East began feeling burned out. She was back to eating too few calories and overtraining. An unnamed USA Gymnastics doctor prescribed her Adderall “to lose more weight, have more energy and be more successful in gymnastics.” She took “heavy doses.”

“It helped my performances, but there were massive consequences to it,” she said. “I continued to compete into 2012, where I just started to get depressed.

“I was overdosing on Adderall. I was overdosing on any medication that wouldn’t be caught by USADA.”

Adderall was a banned substance in competition without a therapeutic use exemption, but was legal outside of competition.

“I was so controlled by other people’s opinions that I wouldn’t live up to that Olympic standard that I did anything to get it back and I could never have it back,” East said. “I didn’t learn that until later on.”

East’s mental hurdles re-emerged when she had a miscarriage in 2017. She blamed herself, believing her unhealthy lifestyle in the past was a contributor.

“Our natural inclination is to say, what did I do? And what did I do wrong?” she said. “It haunted me. I felt like I had sacrificed everything for an Olympic medal to not actually get the dream I had wanted my entire life [to have a child].”

With the help of a nutritionist and therapist and her husband, she conquered the demons through her 2019 pregnancy and childbirth.

“Having gone through a whole pregnancy and knowing that I felt confident through the whole thing, I feel like I’ve climbed Everest,” she said.

MORE: Why Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson went 8 years without talking

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