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Ashton Eaton seeks exit strategy with one decathlon box left to check

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A defining moment of Ashton Eaton‘s career came at a competition where he could not take part. On May 30, 2015, Eaton withdrew before the start of a decathlon in Götzis, Austria, citing a back injury.

Götzis is the multi events’ Augusta National or Wimbledon. The decathlon world record was broken there three times since 1980, including the first 9,000-point score by Czech Roman Sebrle in 2001.

Eaton had never competed in Götzis, previously also withdrawing due to injury, and missing another chance at the annual meet clearly bothered him last year.

Yet Eaton still showed up. After all, his wife, Canadian Brianne Theisen-Eaton, would compete in the heptathlon at the meet. But on that first day of competition, Eaton grabbed a microphone and addressed the stadium in a way that spoke to his character.

“This competition is not about me,” Eaton said to the crowd, a good number of them having shown up hoping to see Eaton challenge his world record in his first decathlon in 19 months. “Don’t make this Ashton Eaton isn’t competing thing part of this competition because that would be criminal. You would be stealing a great experience from all of the athletes.”

Today, the decathlon is far from the front of Eaton’s mind. He is coming off his second straight Olympic title and set to travel to British Columbia, Peru and Kenya with his wife the next several weeks.

Eaton has said he will retire from track and field before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He may not even compete past next season.

There is little left for Eaton to accomplish in the decathlon. He has two Olympic titles, two world titles and two world records. But there is one box left to check.

“I know I would want to do Götzis,” Eaton said in a phone interview while promoting sponsor QALO recently.

It’s not about righting a wrong or making up for withdrawing from the Austrian meet in 2013 and 2015 due to injuries.

“It’s more of a sense of missing out on something very cool,” Eaton said. “It’s the home of the multi events, really.”

Eaton isn’t ready to commit yet, but he could see a scenario where he trains through the Götzis meet in May and then decides if he wants to compete at the 2017 World Championships in London, where he won his first Olympic gold medal. He has a bye into worlds as the defending champion.

“It would be a nice bookend,” Eaton said.

When Eaton recently spoke with 1976 Olympic decathlon champion Caitlyn Jenner on the phone, Eaton had one main question: Was it tough to leave the sport?

Jenner never competed in another decathlon after the Montreal Games. Jenner woke the day after the 1976 decathlon, looked into a hotel mirror, naked except for the gold medal, and said, “What the hell am I going to do now?” according to Sports Illustrated.

Maybe Eaton knew this when he asked Jenner earlier this month. Regardless, he liked the response.

“I just looked back, and I said thanks for the great time and all the memories, and then moved on,” Jenner, who went on to endorsements galore to become America’s “Apple Pie Hero,” told him.

Eaton has fewer options than Jenner did, but certainly different and perhaps more ambitious ones, such as starting a university, according to The Associated Press.

“Track has shaped me a lot, and there will be a time to move on,” Eaton said. “I imagine it won’t be super difficult, because I’ll have fond memories.”

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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.

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