Gracie Gold struggles to sixth-place finish at nationals

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KANSAS CITY — The worst season of Gracie Gold‘s career appears to be over. Are changes ahead? Gold can’t say for sure.

Gold finished sixth at the U.S. Championships on Saturday, her first time outside the top two in five nationals appearances. She is likely to be left off the world championships team for the first time when it is announced Sunday.

Gold, who was fifth after the short program Thursday, left revolutions out of multiple jumps in her free skate, though she did not fall in either program.

“Obviously, I had a very terrible long program,” Gold, fairly composed, said minutes afterward. “It’s just something about this year. I’ve been in a funk. … Even when my switch is on, so to speak, I’m just not having the confidence and the clarity.”

NBC Olympics analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir both called it disastrous. What should she do to regroup?

“You burn down the house, and you build a new one,” Weir said on the NBC broadcast.

The defending U.S. champion Gold has struggled since dropping from first after the 2016 World Championships short program to finish fourth. She was also fourth at the 2014 Olympics and 2015 Worlds.

She made a desperate move to seek out her old coach, Alex Ouriashev, after Christmas to work on her jumps, but it wasn’t enough. She wouldn’t say if she’ll change training locations before the Olympic season.

“I don’t have any plans of that nature yet,” Gold said. “You guys will be the first to know.”

Gold said after her short program that she deserved a place on the worlds team, which is chosen based not just on nationals but also results since the start of 2016. Gold backed off that after her free skate.

“I don’t really want to say too much, just because I know that the committee reads what we all say,” Gold said. “I just know that, given the opportunity, I wouldn’t let them down, and I think that I would be a very wise pick for the world team.

“Even though today’s skating is subpar, there’s not a doubt in my mind that this has been a rough season, but that I’m still pretty much one of the best skaters in the United States and in the world. Sometimes we just have bad times.”

Gold nearly sat out the fall Grand Prix season after detaching from the sport in the summer. She detailed mental and physical struggles — “a worlds depression” — as she posted her worst international results in four years the last three months.

“She’s gone through deep, deep, deep depression, and everybody’s tried to help her with it,” her coach, Frank Carroll, said after Saturday’s skate.

The U.S. Championships conclude Sunday with the men’s free skate (4 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

VIDEO: Tara Lipinski reflects on winning 1997 U.S. title at age 14

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.

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