Sydney McLaughlin
Getty

Sydney McLaughlin, 16, qualifies for Rio in 400m hurdles

Leave a comment

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Fast fact: Teenager Sydney McLaughlin can juggle on a unicycle.

That’s nothing compared to this: The 16-year-old is headed to Rio as the youngest to make the U.S. Olympic track team since the boycotted 1980 Moscow Games.

And to think, the 400-meter hurdles phenom had a panic attack before the start of the trials. She thought the stage might be a tad too big for her.

It wasn’t. McLaughlin, a soon-to-be senior at Union Catholic in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, finished third on Sunday, behind winner Dalilah Muhammad and Ashley Spencer.

“Sometimes, I just forget that I’m 16,” McLaughlin said. “There’s not as much expectation. You know, I don’t get paid for this. I’m here just for fun.”

Once she got to work, she certainly had a ball. She planned to celebrate by going out for dinner. On her menu — a cheeseburger, maybe some sweet potato fries, and possibly topped off with a slice of cheesecake.

“I want be like her when I grow up,” said the 23-year-old Spencer. “At 16 years old, I wasn’t doing anything. I was running track, but it was like, meh? She’s an Olympian.”

It has always taken a bit of coaxing to get McLaughlin to the starting line — both as a kid, when her father bribed her with a chocolate bar with almonds to keep her running at 6, and just before the trials.

But her high school coach, Mike McCabe, has a counseling degree that he put to good use. He told her it was only nerves and everyone gets them.

“I think it was more self-doubt,” he explained. “It was the big stage, ‘I don’t know if I can do this, I don’t know if I belong here.’

“We shared with her that everybody has this. It’s not just her because she’s so young. The elites have it, and they’ve been doing it for years.”

The pep talk hit the mark. Although, the world and American junior record holder isn’t exactly used to trailing like this. She finished in a world junior-record time of 54.15 seconds, which was still 1.27 behind Muhammad. She also was able to hold off fourth-place finisher Kori Carter.

“She’s a beast,” Carter said. “She’s the truth. I was in every single heat with her and she carries herself like a pro. I know she’s going to represent the U.S. amazingly.”

McLaughlin grew up idolizing Allyson Felix, who finished fourth in the 200 meters and missed out on making the U.S. squad in the event. But that’s why McLaughlin appreciates Felix — those kinds of setbacks don’t get her down. Felix still has the 400, an event she won last weekend, and will focus on that.

“You realize that sometimes you have to lose in order to get better,” said McLaughlin, who still plans to compete at world juniors later this month in Poland. “That’s a big thing.”

McLaughlin, who turns 17 on Aug. 7, tried to find humor in just about everything. After winning her heat in the semifinals during a steady drizzle, she said, “The rain messed up my hair, but that’s OK.”

Just Sydney being Sydney.

“She’s super-consistent as a racer,” McCabe said. “You don’t see many bad days. You come to a meet like this and you have to be on at the right time. She doesn’t take herself too seriously. Running isn’t her life. Running chose her. She just happens to be real good at it.”

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!