Laura Graves retires Olympic bronze medal horse Verdades

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Less than seven months before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, U.S. dressage rider Laura Graves has retired her 2016 Rio bronze medal horse Verdades.

Graves made the announcement via Instagram, saying, “I’ve always promised that I would do my best to listen and make the right choice for him when this time came. It became clear in recent weeks that he was not going to be able to return to his usual top form in 2020.”

Verdades, an 18-year-old KWPN gelding also known as “Diddy,” has been with Graves since he was 6 months old. Horses can live well into their 30s, and while there is no maximum age for a horse competing in the Olympics, 18 is generally considered senior, or close to it.

Graves brought Diddy up through the ranks herself, which is uncommon at the Olympic level.

“This horse not only achieved every goal we ever set, but he fulfilled dreams that I never knew I had,” she wrote on Instagram. “Not always the easiest, it was his generous heart and incredible sense of loyalty that made him one of a kind.”

The duo took the U.S. dressage world by storm at the 2014 dressage national championships and made their World Equestrian Games debut later that year in Normandy. They finished fifth in the Grand Prix Freestyle and went on to take team gold and individual silver at the 2015 Pan Am Games.

At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Graves and Diddy helped push the U.S. to team bronze, and they finished just out of the individual medals in fourth place.

Since their Cinderella Olympics, the pair have been a staple on the U.S. Dressage Team, picking up double silver at the 2018 World Equestrian Games in Tryon, N.C., behind dominant German equestrian Isabell Werth. They peaked at No. 1 in the world dressage rankings in October of 2018.

The following spring, they were runners up to Werth yet again at the 2019 FEI World Cup Dressage Final in Gothenburg in what would become their last competition together.

Team USA earned a spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with their silver medal at the last World Equestrian Games, but the U.S. will have to ride without one of their most successful pairs. Since Verdades is the only horse Graves has ever competed internationally, Graves’ Olympic future is unknown.

View this post on Instagram

It is with both a heavy heart and a grateful mind that today, I announce the retirement of my great friend, Diddy. I've always promised that I would do my best to listen and make the right choice for him when this time came. It became clear in recent weeks that he was not going to be able to return to his usual top form in 2020. While nothing makes me happier than watching him play in his field and take him for hacks, it is still a very new and very sad realization for me that this journey has reached its end. This horse not only achieved every goal we ever set, but he fulfilled dreams that I never knew I had. Not always the easiest, it was his generous heart and incredible sense of loyalty that made him one of a kind. Every time I sit in his saddle, I continue to feel honored and humble that he allowed me to be his person. We have travelled the world together, many times over and cut our teeth at some the world's greatest competitions. While it will not be the same loading up the trailer without him, I am very much looking forward to the next chapter of my career with a stable full of young horses. I would like to express a deep love and appreciation for so many people, without whom, this horse would never had made his way to the world stage. My family, especially my mom, who selected Diddy with her keen eye and supported us even when everyone said we were crazy. My soon to be husband, Curt who is always my biggest fan and never questions my need to care for our animals. Debbie McDonald who gave us time when no one else would and believed in our ability to be great. Betsy Juliano who has been by my side through the ups and downs of this rollercoaster and made so much possible for me. Emmalie Clapp my amazing groom who always cares for my horses like her own. Our talented and dedicated team of veterinarians and farriers who kept this boy in top shape for so many years. Robert Dover, Hallye Griffin, US Equestrian and the USET for giving us the opportunity to represent the USA. Lastly, the biggest thank you to Verdades, Diddy, Diddyman, Bugs, my buddy for the joy you have brought to so many.

A post shared by Laura Graves (@lauragravesdressage) on

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

Alex Zanardi
AP
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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

Shawn Johnson
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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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