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Simone Biles has a goat on her leotard, owns the haters

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Simone Biles had a goat and her last name in silver stones on the back of her leotard to open practice for this week’s U.S. Gymnastics Championships.

Justified. She is the greatest female gymnast of her era and very arguably in history for either gender. And the sport’s recognizable global superstar.

“I don’t want to be cocky or anything,” she said at training Wednesday in Kansas City. “My mom was really worried about the leo today. … I don’t think there will be anything bad [comments] except for some fans and some haters.”

Biles seeks a record-tying sixth national all-around title in Kansas City beginning Friday. The second and final day of women’s competition is Sunday, A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Biles competed at her previous meet in July with her last name on the back of her leotard for the first time in recent memory, perhaps ever since she became a senior elite gymnast in 2013.

She clarified Wednesday that the rest of her gym mates from her family’s World Champions Centre in Texas were supposed to have names on their leotards at July’s U.S. Classic as well. But they ran into a problem. Another gymnast’s last name, Olivia Hollingsworth, was too long to fit.

“They already made mine and said we’ll keep yours, but we’ll put WCC on the back [of the other gymnasts’ leotards],” Biles said. “Then everybody [online critics] had a conniption. A lot of people loved it, but at the end of the day, I sat in the hotel room. My family said, why are you so upset? I was like, it’s literally my last name. I didn’t choose to be born. I didn’t choose to be given this last name. I was assigned this name, and people are so upset. And to me, it was almost like it was a little bit sexist as well because any sport has the last name on the [uniform], but if I had it there was a problem. Other jerseys in sports. Most are male. And so I feel like if females have it, they’re like, oh well, who does she think she is? And I got a lot of those comments that night. I didn’t think anything was wrong with it.”

Biles also said her leotard choices were to have fun with those who criticize her on social media, particularly those who hide behind fake names or no name at all.

“It’s not right that the haters can get all the jabs and we can’t jab back, like, kindly or nicely,” she said. “I have all the power now. They can say whatever.

“I thought it was just be cool. I thought it was unique. I hadn’t seen it. Let’s do something different.”

Other World Champions Centre gymnasts had their last names on their practice leotards Wednesday, Biles said, but everybody will be wearing the standard “WCC” on the back on Friday because of space restrictions.

“I’ve even seen some of the men in NCAA have it,” Biles said. “And I was like, but I’ve never seen a girl’s leo do it.”

Biles is undefeated in all-around competitions for more than six years, including a women’s record four world titles and her dominant Rio Olympic performance.

She made a statement with her leotard choice at last year’s nationals, Biles wore a teal mint design, sporting the color designated for sexual-abuse survivors. She came forward in January 2018 as a Larry Nassar survivor.

“Going into it, I felt like I would look very good in this color, and then everything kind of happened,” Biles said last year, after the most dominant performance in nationals history. “It is for the survivors, and I stand with all of them. I think it’s kind of special to unite.”

NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report from Kansas City.

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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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