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New Zealand sweeps Rugby World Cup Sevens, celebrates with haka

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — New Zealand winger Akuila Rokolisoa took the offload from Trael Joass and split two English defenders. Seconds later he was somersaulting over the tryline with the ball, but he might as well have been carrying the Melrose Cup.

New Zealand rolled past England 33-12 on Sunday with a performance that featured speed, strength and a stout defense to repeat as Rugby World Cup Sevens champions and become the first three-time winner of the tournament.

The All Blacks Sevens players ripped off their shirts but kept their gold medals on for a celebratory post-match haka on the same field where the Black Ferns won the women’s competition less than 24 hours earlier. The results meant back-to-back World Cup doubles for the New Zealand teams.

“We were really proud of the girls how they played those two days,” New Zealand men’s sevens captain Scott Curry said. “It’s awesome to kind of simulate what they did earlier and go back-to-back for the first time ever. It’ll be good to go home with two World Cups, that’s for sure.”

Rokolisoa’s try with less than a minute left pushed New Zealand’s advantage to 14 points and Joass’ try on the final movement was merely an exclamation point to the match and the beginning of the celebration.

South Africa outlasted Olympic champion Fiji 24-19 to win the bronze after the tournament’s top two seeds were bounced in the semifinals.

Two-time reigning world series champions and top-seeded South Africa scored the opening try in its semifinal against England but was blanked the rest of the way in 29-7 loss. England needed overtime to beat the United States in the quarterfinals.

“Right now, it’s still hard,” English captain Tom Mitchell said shortly after losing to New Zealand. “You come into these tournaments wanting to be world champions. That’s why we’re all here. But I think we’ll look back at it and be proud of the effort the boys put in.”

The U.S. smothered Scotland 28-0 but tackled poorly and didn’t take care of the ball in a 33-7 loss to Argentina in the fifth-place game. Neither the American men nor women earned a medal at the Rugby Sevens global showcase but players and coaches agreed the three-day event, which sold more than 100,000 tickets, was important in raising USA Rugby’s profile. The sixth-place finish represents the best for the Eagles in a Sevens World Cup.

“It’s disappointing to end the weekend like that,” U.S. captain Madison Hughes said. “The energy of the crowd was just absolutely awesome all weekend.”

The knockout style of the tournament — a departure from the regular system of a group stage followed by knockouts — drew some criticism from coaches and players but World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper on Sunday said the organization will evaluate to see if the format could be used in future World Cups or world series events.

“This format lends itself very well to a combined tournament,” Gosper said. “We’d like to see the women playing with the men in the same stadium, and to do that you change some formats.”

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MORE: U.S. women get fourth at Rugby World Cup Sevens

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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