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19-year-old Chloe Dygert looks like the future of U.S. cycling

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The Olympics were never something to which Chloe Dygert paid much attention, not when there were pick-up basketball games and a million other things on her mind while growing up near Indianapolis.

Not even four years ago, when the London Games captured the world’s imagination.

Dygert is a relative newcomer to bike racing. Not all that long ago, she was still focused on hoops and other more mainstream American sports, and the idea that she might someday compete for her country on two wheels amounted to – well, a preposterous proposition.

“Honestly, it was never really something I watched,” she said. “I was always playing outside or doing something. I never watched TV. I knew about the Olympics but it never really interested me.”

It has her undivided attention these days.

The 19-year-old Dygert is one of the sport’s bright young stars, sweeping the junior road race and time trial at last fall’s world championships. That showing piqued the interest of USA Cycling, and suddenly she was tapped to join its powerhouse women’s pursuit squad for the Rio Games.

After winning the world title in record time, they’re now the heavy favorites for Olympic gold.

“I haven’t had a lot of down time,” Dygert said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

She has spent most of that splitting time between her trade team, Twenty16-Ridebiker, and her Olympic pursuits. But with the Rio Games soon approaching, her attention has shifted entirely to the track.

“She’s an absolutely incredible athlete,” said Sarah Hammer, a two-time Olympic silver medalist and the elder stateswoman of the five-member pursuit squad. “I have really never seen anyone like her, how talented she is. I don’t even think she realizes how talented she is.”

Her father and brother introduced Dygert to cycling, but she didn’t devote herself to it until injuries began to mount on the basketball court. Her breakthrough came in 2013, when she began to land on the podium in elite events, but it was followed by a major setback: She was persuaded to return to the hardwood in high school and wound up tearing her ACL, derailing her for an entire cycling season.

It was her final foray into hoops.

Dygert recovered in time to race a few events late in 2014, and that set her up for a big 2015. She won her two junior world titles in Virginia, then raced a couple of mountain bike events for Marian University, her college squad. Then came the invitation from USA Cycling.

The women’s pursuit team had won silver four years ago in London. It wanted gold in Rio.

Cycling officials thought Dygert would be perfect to round out a squad anchored by Hammer that also includes workhorses Kelly Catlin, Jennifer Valente and Ruth Winder. And they were right, too, as they roared to the world record in March in their first major event.

“Chloe loves to go hard. Loves to smash it,” Hammer said. “But the cool thing is she has zero percent of an ego, and that’s so refreshing. She can turn it off as soon as the effort is over.”

Hammer is hardly Dygert’s only mentor. There is her fiance, Logan Owen, an up-and-coming rider in his own right. There are the coaches at USA Cycling, on the road and the track. And there are those involved in her trade team, including two-time Olympic time trial gold medalist Kristin Armstrong.

“Chloe is what you’d call a natural talent,” Armstrong said. “She hasn’t surprised our team but she has surprised the world, and this is just the beginning for her.”

Dygert’s heart lies on the road, and one day she would love to represent the U.S. at an Olympics in that discipline. The speed, tactics and challenge of a longer, unpredictable and more glamorous race suits her style, rather than the short, all-out bursts of track cycling.

But while she never watched the Summer Games growing up, Dygert now appreciates the magnitude of the event and her opportunity to compete for a medal at such a young age – even if it is on the track.

“I see myself being a Kristin Armstrong, following in her footsteps, being a good all-around rider and a very good time trialist,” she said. “But I do enjoy the track, so it’s like, when the Olympics come around if I have the opportunity to do the track or time trial, I’m definitely open to anything.”

MORE: Kristin Armstrong, Taylor Phinney round out U.S. Olympic cycling team

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

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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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