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Ted Ligety determined to win again as World Cup stops at Beaver Creek

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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) — His face showed little expression as he glided his way down the hill. This was serious business — no laughing, smiling or crying.

With his two-time Olympic gold medalist father holding on, 17-month-old Jax Ligety took his first trek down the slope a few months ago. The look: Pure determination.

It’s a look Ted Ligety knows all too well. He’s that determined to return to the top.

For years, Ligety has been plagued by knee and back issues. Now healthier than he’s been in a while, Ligety’s attempting to rediscover the giant slalom form that allowed him to win an Olympic gold medal (2014 Sochi Games), capture five World Cup titles in the discipline and challenge Austrian standout Marcel Hirscher.

“I don’t know if I’m the Ted of 2012, which was pretty fast,” said Ligety, who plans to compete in the super-G and GS this weekend in Beaver Creek (live on NBC Sports; TV/stream schedule here). “That’s definitely where I’m shooting for, though. I feel like it’s getting to the point where I can start winning races again. That’s the goal right now.”

His last World Cup victory was Oct. 25, 2015, in Austria — before he frayed the cartilage in his hip, tore the ACL in his right knee and strained his back to the point where the 34-year-old from Park City, Utah, needed season-ending surgery in January 2017 to fix herniated disks. There was promise last season, with a third-place showing in Germany just before the PyeongChang Games last February.

But his GS title defense at the Olympics didn’t go as planned as he finished tied for 15th place in a race won by Hirscher. Ligety did take fifth during the combined, also won by Hirscher.

As an experience, Ligety described PyeongChang as “fun” with his wife, Mia, Jax and his family in attendance.

As a racer, not so much.

“I was there to compete and go for medals and came up a little short in the combined and vastly underperformed in the giant slalom,” said Ligety, who captured Olympic gold in the combined at the 2006 Torino Games. “It’s not the way I would’ve liked to have things to go down in the Olympics.”

These days, he’s all about family time. His wife and son travel with him as often as possible. Ligety gave his son his first taste of skiing at a New Zealand venue in August.

“I definitely want him to be a skier. Do I want him to be a ski racer? If he wants to. It’s not something I would ever push on him,” Ligety said. “A big part of my life is skiing. I want him to ski race at least when he’s younger so he has that base. But I wouldn’t push him beyond just going out there and having fun with friends.”

There was a time when his rivals used to refer to him as “Mr. GS” for his dominance in the event. Ligety had a stretch where he captured three straight world championship GS titles and another during the 2013 season when he won six of eight races in the event.

But injuries took a toll on him. He tore his ACL during a training mishap in Germany in January 2016. His back and hip have also hindered him.

This summer, though, he went through something he hasn’t in quite a while — a customary prep period. For once, he wasn’t rehabbing an injury. He actually got to train.

“High volume, too,” Ligety said. “I’m feeling good.”

Good enough to challenge Hirscher, who’s won seven straight World Cup overall titles?

“To able to compete with him is definitely a tall task,” Ligety said. “But I really don’t think I’d be out here if I didn’t think I could get back to that point.”

Ligety laughs when asked how much longer he intends to race, simply saying he’s closer to the end than the beginning. His immediate plan is to race for two more seasons and then play it by ear.

“I may go another two years after that, but it will be based on how the skiing is going, how the body is feeling, family, and all that stuff,” Ligety said.

He’s not quite ready for a full, full-time job. He does run a company he started called Shred, which makes goggles, sunglasses, gloves and other products.

“A desk is not my preferred work environment,” Ligety said. “That’s what’s great about being a ski racer: You ultimately control your own destiny in what you do. And that’s the big reason I started a business. I wanted to have that in the business world as well, something I could control the destiny of and be a part of and how it’s shaped. That’s part of that future me.”

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

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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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