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Caster Semenya, hurdles showdown headline Diamond League opener

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Caster Semenya races internationally for the first time since last week’s IAAF testosterone announcement at the season-opening Diamond League meet in Doha, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports Gold on Friday.

Live coverage begins at 11:15 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold’s “Track and Field Pass” (commercial-free) and noon on Olympic Channel. NBCSN will air coverage Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

Semenya, the Olympic 800m champion, is entered in the 1500m in Doha against a field lacking any of the other top seven finishers from the 2016 Olympics or 2017 Worlds. Semenya took 1500m bronze at last year’s worlds.

Semenya has not commented publicly on last week’s IAAF announcement that women with high testosterone must reduce those levels by Nov. 1 or will not be allowed in international races between 400m and the mile. South Africa’s Olympic Committee said Semenya, whom track officials mandated undergo gender testing in 2009, is expected to be affected by the ruling.

While Semenya is the standout name in Doha, several other events feature stronger head-to-head matchups, including reigning Olympic and world champions.

Here are the Doha entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

11:10 a.m. — Women’s Pole Vault
11:15 — Women’s Discus
11:50 — Men’s Triple Jump
Noon — Men’s High Jump
12:03 — Men’s 400m
12:13 — Women’s 1500m
12:26 — Women’s 100m
12:35 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase
12:50 — Men’s Javelin
12:53 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
1:02 — Men’s 1500m
1:15 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
1:25 — Men’s 800m
1:36 — Men’s 200m
1:45 — Women’s 3000m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s 1500m — 12:13 p.m. ET
Semenya has two defeats in about 20 international meets since the start of 2016, according to Tilastopaja.org. It would be a shock if she gets a third here. Semenya owns the two fastest times of the year in her complementary event. None of the other star 1500m runners — like Olympic and world champion Faith Kipyegon (pregnancy), Olympic and world medalist Jenny Simpson (racing the 3000m in Doha) and world-record holder Genzebe Dibaba — are in this field.

Women’s 100m — 12:26 p.m. ET
Four of the top five sprinters from the 2017 World Championships, missing only gold medalist Tori Bowie. Watch Olympic champion Elaine Thompson, whose only 100m defeat since the start of 2016 came at the 2017 Worlds. But the Jamaican was fourth this year in the world indoor championships 60m and the Commonwealth Games 200m.

Men’s Javelin — 12:50 p.m. ET
Probably the strongest Doha field at the top with the top four from the 2017 World Championships. Germany has the reigning Olympic champion (Thomas Roehler) and world champion (Johannes Vetter), who combined for the top six throws in the world last year. Last year in Doha, Roehler recorded the world’s farthest throw in 20 years, only to see Vetter go farther two months later.

Women’s 100m Hurdles — 1:15 p.m. ET
The five fastest Americans over the last 13 years are in this field — world-record holder Kendra Harrison, 2016 Olympic champion Brianna McNeal, Sharika NelvisJasmin Stowers and 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson. It’s the third time these five women will race together. McNeal races internationally for the first time since leading a U.S. sweep in Rio and then sitting out all of 2017 for missing three drug tests (though never failing one). Harper-Nelson races for the first time since announcing she will retire at the end of the season. Harrison’s only defeats since the start of 2016 were at the Olympic trials and world championships.

Men’s 200m — 1:36 p.m. ET
An intriguing group including surprise world champion Ramil Guliyev of Turkey, Olympic silver medalist Andre De Grasse of Canada, Olympic 110m hurdles champion Omar McLeod, promising American Noah Lyles and Jereem Richards of Trinidad and Tobago. With Usain Bolt retired and Wayde van Niekerk absent and coming off a knee tear, there is no clear-cut king of the 200m at the moment.

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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.

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