Steven Holcomb, Olympic champ bobsledder, found dead

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Steven Holcomb, the longtime U.S. bobsledding star who drove to three Olympic medals after beating a disease that nearly robbed him of his eyesight, was found dead in Lake Placid, New York, on Saturday.

He was 37.

The U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Bobsled and Skeleton announced the death of the 2010 gold medalist, the cause of which remains unclear. However, officials said there were no indications of foul play after a preliminary investigation at the Olympic Training Center where Holcomb was found in his room. An autopsy was tentatively scheduled for Sunday.

The native of Park City, Utah, was a three-time Olympian, and his signature moment came at the 2010 Vancouver Games when he piloted his four-man sled to a win that snapped a 62-year gold-medal drought for the U.S. in bobsled’s signature race.

“It would be easy to focus on the loss in terms of his Olympic medals and enormous athletic contributions to the organization, but USA Bobsled and Skeleton is a family and right now we are trying to come to grips with the loss of our teammate, our brother and our friend,” said Darrin Steele, the federation’s CEO who had known Holcomb for two decades.

Holcomb also drove to bronze medals in both two- and four-man events at the Sochi Games in 2014, and was expected to be part of the 2018 U.S. Olympic team headed to the Pyeongchang Games.

He also was a former world champion in both two-man and four-man competition.

“The entire Olympic family is shocked and saddened by the incredibly tragic loss today of Steven Holcomb,” U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun said. “Steve was a tremendous athlete and even better person, and his perseverance and achievements were an inspiration to us all. Our thoughts and prayers are with Steve’s family and the entire bobsledding community.”

MORE: Olympians mourn Holcomb’s death

Holcomb was still one of the world’s elite drivers, finishing second on the World Cup circuit in two-man points and third in four-man points this past season. His final victory came in Lake Placid last December, when he drove to a two-man win.

He was cherubic, almost always happy in public, someone whose sense of humor was well-known throughout the close-knit bobsled world. Teammates even spent a season chronicling his “Holcy Dance,” a little less-than-rhythmic shuffle that he would do at each stop on the World Cup circuit to make fellow sliders laugh.

But at race time, Holcomb turned icy serious.

He won 60 World Cup medals, plus 10 more at the world championships and three in the Olympics, making him one of the most decorated pilots in the world. And when he teamed with Steven Langton to win Olympic bronze in two-man at Sochi in 2014, he snapped another 62-year U.S. drought in that event — just as he had four years earlier in the four-man Olympic race.

“If anyone else has a 62-year medal drought you need to break, let me know, I’ll help you,” Holcomb said at the time.

His winter-sports career started as a skier when he was 6, and he started as a push athlete in bobsled in 1998. He was an alternate on the 2002 Olympic team, and has been the driver of USA-1 — the honor bestowed to America’s best pilot — for more than a decade.

Holcomb revealed in recent years that there was also a troubled side, including battles with depression and a failed hotel-room suicide attempt in 2007 which he wrote about in his autobiography, “But Now I See: My Journey from Blindness to Olympic Gold.”

“After going through all that and still being here, I realized what my purpose was,” Holcomb told the AP in a 2014 interview.

The depression, he believed, largely stemmed from his fight with the disease called keratoconus. Holcomb’s vision degenerated to the point where he was convinced that his bobsled career was ending, and his mood quickly started going dark as well. His eyesight was saved in a surgery that turned his 20-500 vision into something close to perfect, and his sliding career simply took off from there.

Winning gold with push athletes Steve Mesler, Curt Tomasevicz and Justin Olsen at the Vancouver Olympics turned Holcomb into a full-fledged star. In the months that followed, Holcomb met President Barack Obama, played golf with Charles Barkley, hung out with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes — they were then a couple — visited the New York Stock Exchange, threw the ceremonial first pitch at a Cleveland Indians game and went to the Indianapolis 500.

In the bobsled world, he was larger than life.

Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.

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
Getty Images
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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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