Shinzo Abe
AP

Nintendo earned free Super Mario advertising at Rio Olympic Closing Ceremony

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TOKYO (AP) — How much did Nintendo pay to land that dream marketing opportunity at the Rio Olympics closing ceremony, where Japan’s prime minister popped out dressed as the red-hatted plumber Super Mario?

Zero.

The Japanese video game maker behind “Pokemon” and “Zelda” got the coveted stage that corporate sponsors pay millions for after they were approached by those creating the festivities for “cooperation,” not the other way around, says Nintendo Co. spokesman Yasuhiro Minagawa.

“I want to make that clear. We did not pay,” he said in a telephone interview. “And we are not going to become Olympic sponsors either.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe‘s emergence in a Super Mario costume was the highlight of the handover section for Tokyo, the host of the 2020 games.

The segment was so favorably received in Japan as surprisingly playful and tasteful, given the staidness usually associated with Japan Inc., that Abe earned a new nickname, “Abe-Mario.”

Tokyo city official Masahiro Hayashi said Japan’s top advertising company Dentsu Inc. was tapped to produce the handover segment, with a total budget for the Rio Olympics and the Paralympics of 1.2 billion yen ($12 million).

He refused to say how much Dentsu was paid, or give other details.

The city of Tokyo and the organizing committee are under intense pressure to trim costs, which have ballooned over the years, partly because of the weakening yen but also because planning fiascos, such as decisions to redo designs for both the main stadium and the Tokyo 2020 logo.

Organizing committee spokesman Motoki Okumura would not give details of the spending for the closing ceremony. Dentsu also declined to comment.

“Top Olympic sponsors pay millions of dollars to the IOC for permission to promote their brands to a massive global audience. Nintendo just did it for free. With Japan’s prime minister as their pitchman. Easily the marketing coup of the Rio Games,” said Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing analyst and creative director at Baker Street Advertising of San Francisco.

Purists might feel the commercial branding was a bit overdone, and argue for other ways to promote Japanese culture, according to Dorfman, who has lived in Japan.

“But gaming and anime are certainly major aspects of modern Japan, and Mario is a universal icon. As someone who doesn’t take sports or the Olympics too seriously, I found the whole thing pretty funny and entertaining,” he said.

MORE: Tokyo 2020 Olympic news

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

Shawn Johnson
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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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