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45-year-old speed skater eyes record 7th Olympics

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When German speed skater Claudia Pechstein debuted at the Winter Olympics in 1992, she won a bronze medal in the 5000m in 7 minutes, 39.80 seconds.

On Sunday, Pechstein won a World Cup 5000m in 6:56.60, a track record in Stavanger, Norway.

Pechstein, now 45 years old, notched her first World Cup victory in three years.

“It’s unbelievable to be on top at my age,” she said, according to the International Skating Union. “Some of the other athletes could be my daughters.”

She extended her record as the oldest skater to win a World Cup race (the second-oldest was barely 38 years old at the time, according to SchaatsStatistieken.nl).

And come February, it looks like she’ll be the first woman to compete in seven Winter Olympics (she has not ruled out a bid for 2022, either).

She can become the oldest Winter Olympic medalist in an individual event and the first person to win the same individual Winter Olympic event four times (she won the 5000m in 1994, 1998 and 2002).

Four women have competed in eight Summer Olympics. Pechstein currently shares the record of six Winter Games appearances by a woman with two others, according to Olympic historians.

The overall record of seven appearances is shared by Russian luger Albert Demtschenko and Japanese ski jumper Noriaki Kasai. Demtschenko retired after Sochi, while the 45-year-old Kasai looks likely for an eighth Olympics after placing 15th in last season’s World Cup standings.

Pechstein owns nine Olympic medals, one shy of the female Winter Games record shared by cross-country skiers Marit Bjoergen of Norway, Raisa Smetanina of Russia and Stefania Belmondo of Italy.

The latter two are retired, but the 37-year-old Bjoergen was the world’s best skier last season after taking time off to have a baby.

Bjoergen is likely to add multiple medals in PyeongChang, perhaps challenging countryman Ole Einar Bjoerndalen‘s Winter Olympic record 13 medals (Bjoerndalen is also still active, complicating matters).

Back to Pechstein.

She is perhaps best known for missing the 2010 Olympics due to a two-year blood doping ban (not for failing a test, but for irregular biological passport levels). She has denied doping and fought the ban in courts for several years after it ended in 2011.

Her path to 5000m gold in PyeongChang would almost surely have to go through Czech Martina Sablikova, who has won the last 11 Olympic or world titles.

Sablikova was third in Sunday’s race, reportedly hampered by a back injury. She relegated Pechstein to silver at last season’s world championships by 1.55 seconds at the PyeongChang Olympic venue.

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Alex Zanardi, auto racer turned Paralympic champion, has 5-hour surgery to rebuild face after crash

Alex Zanardi
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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.

MORE: Why Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson went 8 years without talking

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