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Sarah True, after post-Rio suicidal thoughts, tackles Ironman Kona

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Post-Olympic depression hit Sarah True hard after she tottered, right leg cramping, off the Rio triathlon course, pushing her bike to a street-side barrier while being lapped.

“This continued into 2017, and for a good part of that year I couldn’t experience any joy whatsoever,” True, who struggled with clinical depression since her early teens, wrote for Outside magazine. “I obsessively thought about taking my own life. I’d be out on long training rides and couldn’t stop thinking about swerving into oncoming traffic, every truck becoming an object that could end it all. Month after month passed, and I kept thinking it can’t get any worse, and yet it just kept on getting worse.”

True sought help. From a therapist. From connecting socially. From doing art and cooking. From knowing that the feelings would eventually pass.

“No matter how bleak and despairing it feels, it’s not real,” she said. “The people around you still love you. You’re not this burden to them. One of the most important things was I finally acknowledged the fact that I needed help. At that point I realized that I think it’s time to revisit this thing that I filed away in my brain. This Ironman thing.”

Last October, True had a “light-bulb, epiphany” moment, waking up with a new goal of doing an Ironman triathlon — a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike and a 26.2-mile marathon run. It’s more than four times longer than the Olympic distance.

“I was in a pretty dark, scary place last year, and when I came out I was just so grateful for life that honestly the best celebration of being alive I could think of was doing an Ironman,” she said Wednesday.

True, 36, has been in Hawaii for the last month, preparing to race the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona on Saturday.

The biggest event in triathlon streams on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app with a 90-minute NBCSN broadcast at 12:30 p.m. ET. Live reports on NBCSN and NBC will air throughout the day, beginning at 2 p.m. NBCSN will air recap coverage Sunday at 12 a.m. and 1 p.m.

“I would be disappointed with anything outside the top 10, but I also recognize that extremely fit people with far more experience in Ironman have had disastrous races here because of the conditions,” True said.

Her first triathlon memories were watching Kona legend Paula Newby-Fraser racing in a fluorescent two-piece suit on NBC. Newby-Fraser won a record eight Kona crowns between 1986 and 1996.

True grew up in Cooperstown, N.Y., playing pranks on MLB Hall of Fame visitors seeking directions. She swam and ran at Cooperstown High, then swam at Vermont’s Division III Middlebury College and made what she called a natural progression to triathlon.

By 2011, True had become the best U.S. female triathlete. She finished fourth at the London Olympics, missing bronze by 10 seconds, and briefly considered moving toward the Ironman distance.

After Rio, True tried to resume an Olympic-distance career. But after DNFing and finishing 34th in the first two World Series races in 2017, she gave it up. She remembered a coach four years earlier asking what motivated her to wake up every morning. It was Olympic-distance triathlon. Not anymore.

“I was still carrying the heartbreak from Rio,” True said on the IronWomen podcast. “My heart wasn’t in it.”

True made her half Ironman distance debut the following month and finished second in Chattanooga, Tenn.

“It was kind of a test for whether or not I would call it a very happy, successful career or version 2.0, long-course, non-draft athlete phase,” she told Ironman historian Bob Babbitt. “I loved it.”

True is now in Kona as an experienced racer, having placed fourth and 10th at the last two half Ironman 70.3 World Championships and second to three-time reigning Kona champ Daniela Ryf at the European Championships in July, her first full Ironman. (Granted, Ryf, who was 40th at the 2012 Olympics, won by 26 minutes.)

True has been remarkably strong amid many rookie moments. In her first 70.3, she took in just 350 calories over more than four hours of racing (and none on the 13.1-mile run), causing her dietitian to laugh, gobsmacked she didn’t blow up during the half marathon. She had massive blisters on her feet from not wearing socks. True did her first three 70.3 races in an exhausting span of six weeks.

The longest run of her life before the European Championships was 18 miles. True grabbed the wrong bag in the transition off the bike in Frankfurt, Germany. She had to go back after being dumbfounded by the unfamiliar shoes and running equipment she had pulled out.

She is asked what scares her about Saturday’s race, one of the toughest events in all of sport, that starts at 6:40 a.m. local time.

“Things can go very badly in the heat,” she said. “It’s not fear. It’s a healthy respect for what could potentially go wrong. It’s Ironman. When things go wrong in a nine-hour race, they go really wrong.”

The feeling is not comparable to the days leading up to an Olympics. Kona is every year. True is right now on a two-year plan, to spend next year training specifically for Kona.

This one is for gaining experience, handling the head- and cross-winds biking on the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway. Surviving the Energy Lab on the run after more than 130 miles of racing. The forecast says it’ll reach 86 degrees by 9 a.m. with a coin-flip chance of rain.

“There’s no amateur component to the Olympics,” True said. “I’m here with 2,500 amateur athletes, and it’s a traveling circus. The vendors are here. All the media is here. This town has just been overrun by triathlon. The Olympics is a celebration of Olympic sport. Kona is a celebration of triathlon.”

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David Taylor wins wrestling world title, at long last

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David Taylor, the formerly dominant NCAA wrestler known as the Magic Man, was stuck for five years.

Stuck finishing second or third in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 World Championships team trials in the U.S.’ toughest weight class owned by Jordan Burroughs. When Taylor moved up a division, he suffered the same fate in 2016 (Olympic Trials) and 2017.

At last, at 27 years old, Taylor made his first world team this summer. It helped that United World Wrestling expanded the number of weight classes from eight to 10, meaning Taylor didn’t have to go through Burroughs, Olympic bronze medalist J’den Cox or four-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake at trials. But Taylor earned his place, going undefeated internationally this year.

Then in Budapest on Sunday, Taylor completed a breakthrough run through the 86kg bracket, becoming a world champion.

Taylor is the oldest first-time Olympic or world champion for USA Wrestling since 2006, when now-freestyle head coach Bill Zadick did so at 33. Taylor reached the top four years after ending an NCAA career at Penn State that included two Hodge Trophies, given to the college wrestler of the year.

Taylor had to work from start to finish in Budapest, upsetting Iran’s Olympic and world champion Hassan Yazdani in his first match Saturday. He then dumped Turkey’s top-seeded Fatih Erdin in the final, scoring a two-point takedown in the first 10 seconds and getting a 12-2 tech fall.

Also Sunday, the 2012 Olympic champ Burroughs rallied for a bronze medal, beating Cuban-born Italian nemesis Frank Chamizo via tiebreaker by scoring the last point with 26 seconds left. It’s the seventh Olympic or world medal for Burroughs in eight global tournaments, coming one day after he suffered just his seventh defeat in seven-plus years on the senior stage.

In the 61kg bracket, worlds rookie Joe Colon earned a bronze medal, two weeks after replacing U.S. champion Nahshon Garrett on the team. Garrett, who beat Colon in the world team trials final in June, is out with a torn pectoral.

Cox and Dake advanced to Monday’s gold-medal matches in the 92kg and 79kg divisions, respectively.

Logan Stieber, a 2016 World champion, lost his opening match at 65kg. Thomas Gilman, the 2017 World silver medalist at 57kg, lost his semifinal match and will go for bronze Monday.

Olympic champions Kyle Snyder and Helen Maroulis begin their world title defenses on Monday and Wednesday, respectively.

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Ethiopian marathoner who made Olympic protest returns from exile

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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — The Ethiopian marathon runner who made global headlines with an anti-government gesture at the Rio Olympics finish line returned from exile on Sunday after sports officials assured him he will not face prosecution.

Feyisa Lilesa’s return from the United States came several months after a reformist prime minister took office and announced sweeping political reforms. He received a warm welcome at the airport from the foreign minister and other senior officials.

Feyisa said the new government is “a result of the struggle by the people” and he hopes it will address concerns after years of repression in Africa’s second most populous nation.

The silver medalist crossed his wrists at the finish line in 2016 in solidarity with protesters in his home region, Oromia, who like many across Ethiopia were demanding wider freedoms.

Feyisa later said he feared he would be imprisoned or killed if he returned home. But he became a symbol of resistance for many youth until the pressure on the government led to a change of power, with 42-year-old Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed taking office in April.

Abiy is the country’s first leader from the Oromo ethnic group since the ruling coalition came to power 27 years ago.

Ethiopia’s government did not immediately comment Sunday on the runner’s return.

Asked by The Associated Press if he has any political ambitions, Feyisa said: “I don’t have any ambition in politics! Actually I didn’t get close to politics, politics gets close to me.”

Feyisa broke down in tears while speaking about youth who lost their lives during the years of protests. “I will continue to remember those who lost their lives for the cause. Many people lost their lives for it.”

Turning his attention to running, he said his next race will be the Dubai Marathon in January.

“My training while I was in exile was not good, so it has affected my performance,” Feyisa said. He missed two races in recent weeks as he prepared to return to Ethiopia. “I will resume my regular training after a week.”

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