Jordan Larson
AP

U.S. women’s volleyball inspired by Andre Agassi, one step closer to Rio

Leave a comment

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — On the back of an extra business card with his name on it, U.S. coach Karch Kiraly scribbled a No. 1 and tucked it in his right pocket to show his players and acknowledge a significant step toward the goal of reaching the Rio Olympics.

One set down against a Canada team defending with tenacity, then two more Thursday night. The world’s top-ranked Americans need nine winning sets in all this week to secure their bid — after missing a chance to do so at last year’s World Cup in Japan.

Kiraly has nine such cards with him, an idea inspired from reading fellow 1996 Olympic champion Andre Agassi‘s autobiography “Open” a few years back and his approach to filing each set away during the course of a tennis Grand Slam.

Kiraly shared that with his team.

“That’s one way to think about it is really go hard for this next point and do that for a set of volleyball,” Kiraly said. “And if we get one of those, they can’t take it away from us. It gets us a little closer to the easiest route to winning this tournament, which is to try to notch nine sets.”

Jordan Larson returned with fanfare to her home state of Nebraska as she helped lead the U.S. to the 25-18, 25-18, 25-15 victory over Canada in the opener of its NORCECA Olympic qualifying tournament, drawing cheers from the crowd of 6,322 every time she served or touched the ball.

“It’s great to be home, the home crowd, they just love volleyball,” Larson said. “It’s so awesome to see.”

The Americans topped the 16th-ranked and lowest seed Canadians with their depth and powerful attack in the victory at Pinnacle Bank Arena to take the first step toward earning a berth into this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

“We responded well and remembered we’ve been together for 10 days and it’s just not going to be something that comes together like that,” Nicole Fawcett said. “It’s a process.”

In the second set, Fawcett’s service ace put the U.S. up 23-17 and Kelsey Robinson‘s kill soon ended it, then Fawcett made a kill on match point. Kiraly’s 14-player squad this week features five players who settled for silver at the London Olympics in a disappointing loss to Brazil.

The Americans went 41-6 in 2015 but lost twice at the World Cup in Japan in late August and early September to miss a qualifying chance for Rio.

Canada dug out some tough balls, forcing the Americans to play longer points.

“We never shy away from long rallies,” outside hitter Megan Easy said. “We weren’t quite as crisp as we wanted to be. These tournaments are stressful. We found a way to kind of temper our nerves, playing in American finally. I was just proud of everyone that they got control of their nerves and we all just fought together.”

In Friday night’s lineup for the round-robin event, the U.S. takes on No. 15 Puerto Rico, a four-set loser in Thursday’s opening match to the seventh-ranked Dominican Republic — 17-25, 25-13, 25-23, 25-23.

Dominican Republic middle blocker Jineiry Martinez went out with her team down 9-8 in the fourth set and was carried to the bench. She said immediately afterward she hurt her right knee but it was “better” and she expects to play Friday against Canada.

“For our team the game is tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. I think we only have a chance against the U.S. when they play on 80 percent and we play 120,” coach Arnd Ludwig said. “I’m quite satisfied with how my team played today. We played a very good defensive game.”

Canada hasn’t reached the Olympics since 1996.

The public address announcer gave a shout out to the three former Nebraska players — Larson, Kayla Banwarth and Robinson, who spent one year with the recently crowned NCAA volleyball champion Cornhuskers.

“I’m on cloud nine right now, playing in front of the home crowd,” Robinson said. “It’s always special to come home here.”

MORE: U.S. men’s volleyball team clinches Olympic berth

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

Alex Zanardi
AP
Leave a comment

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

Shawn Johnson
Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!