Los Angeles 2024
LA 2024

LA 2024 Olympic bid gets lots of Facebook likes … from Pakistan

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PARIS (AP) — More than a million Facebook users like the idea of hosting the 2024 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Many of them, oddly enough, from Pakistan.

A report prepared for The Associated Press says most of LA’s likes have come in the past six weeks from far away from Southern California.

“The fan growth evolution for the LA2024 Facebook page does seem suspicious,” said analyst Michaela Branova, whose Prague, Czech Republic-based firm, Socialbakers, drew up the report. “Countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan suddenly spike from almost zero to tens of thousands of fans within a few days in February.”

LA campaign spokesman Jeff Millman said there was nothing suspicious about the figures. He said LA kicked off a series of Facebook advertisements starting Feb. 3. The scale and the mechanics of the advertising campaign weren’t made clear – Millman declined to divulge how much LA 2024 had spent on promotion – but he noted that Facebook ads were “more efficient in countries where there are fewer competing brands.”

He argued that it made sense to seek fans internationally.

“We are a global campaign, as the Olympic movement is global,” he said.

Socialbakers’ figures, which were commissioned by the AP, give some insight into the dynamics of both the Paris and Los Angeles’ social media campaigns.

By the end of 2016, Los Angeles had 209,000 or so likes, nearly all of which came from the United States, according to Socialbakers. Paris had 62,000 or so fans, 80 percent of which came from France.

By last week both sides’ figures had grown. Paris’ Facebook page tripled its following, but four out of five endorsements came from France, with many of the others originating in Algeria and Tunisia, former French colonies.

Los Angeles saw an explosion in support from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Indonesia, Egypt, India, Afghanistan and other low-income countries, according to Socialbakers’ research. In Bangladesh alone, the number of supporters of the U.S. Olympic bid rose from a few dozen to 113,335 in a month-and-a-half. In Pakistan, the number of supporters leapt from 55 to 99,336 over the same period.

Socialbakers’ report said that more than 700,000 of the 1 million accounts that liked LA 2024’s Facebook page had done so within the past six weeks. The surge helped LA blow past Paris (about 235,000 likes) and hit the million mark at an opportune moment. An Olympics conference started Tuesday in Denmark, the first of three events between now and September, when the International Olympic Committee is scheduled to pick one city over the other.

Socialbakers said it wasn’t working for the LA or Paris bid, and that its work was transparent.

“It’s all publicly available, taken directly from the Facebook API,” said spokeswoman Claire Wilson, referring to Facebook’s data interface.

Branova and outside experts said it was possible that a large chunk of LA’s social media support was drummed up by advertisements or other paid methods.

“It’s consistent with what you’d expect to see from paid endorsements,” said Daniel Mochon, who teaches social media marketing at Tulane University’s A. B. Freeman School of Business. “They tend to come from developing countries … You’re going to see sudden spikes that are not necessarily tied to anything external.”

Social media support has been invoked as a selling point by the LA bid, which islocked in competition with Paris for the chance to host the Summer Games. On Monday, LA 2024 released a statement crowing about how its campaign had passed the 1 million follower mark.

That was endorsed by Nathan Cowan of Seattle-based digital marketing analytics firm Rival IQ, which wasn’t involved in the report. Cowan said that while hadn’t seen the raw data, Socialbakers’ work “appears to be entirely accurate.”

Cowan echoed Socialbakers’ suspicions about LA’s numbers, noting the “extreme spike in followers” and their unusual geographic breakdown.

Paris 2024 officials declined to comment. Facebook declined comment, saying in an email that it was up to advertisers to disclose how they promoted their pages. The IOC did not offer any comment, but the group’s rules of conduct note that promotion of a city’s bid must take place “with dignity and moderation.”

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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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