Paralympics

Alex Zanardi
AP

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

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SIENA, Italy — 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.

River swimming, Zwift, indoor tennis; Paralympians find unique training amid coronavirus pandemic

Sophia Herzog
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NBCSN presents two nights of Paralympic programming in primetime on Wednesday and Thursday, looking back on champion performances from the Rio Games. Meanwhile, U.S. hopefuls for Tokyo found unique ways to train amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A look at how athletes adapted in four different Paralympic sports … 

Swimming: Suiting up in the Arkansas River
Paralympic silver medalist Sophia Herzog went from swimming nine times a week at the Salida Rec Center in Colorado to once a week in the Arkansas River. “The whole point in swimming there is actually just to keep the feel of the water,” she said. “You lose that about a day and a half of being out of the water.”

Herzog’s primary exercise after her pool closed became cycling. But, around a dozen times this spring, she zipped on a wetsuit and plunged into 50-degree water for 30-minute sessions. She fought a current, while keeping her head above water as much as possible. She had to watch her surroundings to avoid the rafters, kayakers, big sticks and dogs coming downstream. Her boyfriend became her lifeguard.

Track and Field: Partners Separated
David Brown won a Rio Paralympic 100m title with guide runner Jerome Avery at his side. They’ve been together since February 2014, highlighted by Brown becoming the first totally blind athlete to break 11 seconds in the 100m. But they were separated in March when the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., closed to resident athletes. As weeks turned to months, Brown and Avery realized they had not been apart for this long in more than six years.

“Since David abandoned me,” Avery joked, “I went and got a pet.” A 4-month-old Cane Corso named Apollo.

Brown moved from the OTC to rent a room with a family, 30 minutes away from Avery’s residence. He began running grass-field sprints and jumping rope at a park, with his girlfriend, an archer, assisting. When he trained with Avery six days a week, Brown could sprint 150 meters on a track. Without him, at the park, his girlfriend claps, and Brown can run 80 meters in the grass. Brown and Avery are confident that the break will not hinder them on the road to Tokyo. “Once we get paired together again, it’s like riding a bike,” Avery said. “We’re going to be perfect.”

Tennis: A Homemade Court
When Dana Mathewson moved from London to Central Florida in late February, she knew life would change. She could not have imagined the only tennis she would play for months would be inside her new home. Mathewson, the highest-ranked U.S. male or female wheelchair tennis player at No. 11 in the world, said earlier in June that she was essentially on lockdown for three months before the USTA National Campus in Orlando reopened last week.

She relocated to the area to take advantage of the facilities after two years in England, working toward a clinical doctorate degree in audiology at University College in London. Mathewson, while living with two other tennis players in Florida, decided to “make lockdown fun” and set up the makeshift court in an open room. “It was birthed out of boredom, to be honest,” she said. They used smaller rackets and softer balls from USTA’s Net Generation program for kids. “So we knew we wouldn’t ruin the walls or the windows,” she said.

They played regularly until Mathewson moved out in early April due to allergies and the fact her housemates had cats. Mathewson, who learned to crochet and fostered Riley, a three-month-old Cockapoo, during stay-at-home, may move on from the sport after the Tokyo Games. She’s putting all her effort into rising into the top eight in the world to earn entry into Grand Slams and make it financially viable to continue beyond 2021.

Cycling: Virtual Time Trials
Starting April 30, U.S. Paralympics Cycling began holding weekly Zwift competitions open to para-cyclists from around the world. In a time trial format, each cyclist received a staggered start time and competed on bike trainers at home to power their virtual avatars over a 10-mile circuit. It was open to handcycles, tricycles, tandems and standard bicycles. U.S. Paralympics already had national team rides twice a week on Zwift. With group riding outside eliminated due to the pandemic, U.S. Paralympics Cycling CEO Ian Lawless came up with the virtual time trial idea.

“The biggest thing, at least for the athletes that I work with, it’s more maintaining that motivation,” said Sarah Hammer, a four-time Olympic track cycling medalist who is now the U.S. Para-cycling head coach. “It’s just creating that motivation when, suddenly, your Paralympic Games have been pushed back by a year.”

MORE: Paralympic programming set for primetime next 3 weeks

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On Olympic and Paralympic Day, how both Games intersected over time

Olympic and Paralympic Day
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The annual Olympic Day, first held in 1948 to celebrate the rebirth of the Olympic Games dating to June 23, 1894, is now known in the U.S. by a new name — Olympic and Paralympic Day.

It’s the latest move toward inclusion by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. The USOPC changed its name last June to include the Paralympic movement.

“The decision to change the organization’s name represents a continuation of our long-standing commitment to create an inclusive environment for Team USA athletes,” USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland said at the time. “Paralympic athletes are integral to the makeup of Team USA, and our mission to inspire current and future generations of Americans. The new name represents a renewed commitment to that mission and the ideals that we seek to advance, both here at home and throughout the worldwide Olympic and Paralympic movements.”

The Olympics and the Paralympics are separate entities. There is an International Olympic Committee and an International Paralympic Committee. But both Games intersected in many ways since 1960, when Rome became the first city to host both the Olympics and Paralympics in the same year.

Start with the word “Paralympic,” derived from the Greek preposition “para” (beside or alongside) and the word “Olympic.”

Since 1992, every Olympic host city also held the Paralympic Games. In most cases, the same venues hosted Olympic and Paralympic events, the most visible difference often the Paralympic Agitos logo in place of the Olympic rings.

A total of 34 athletes competed in both the Olympics and the Paralympics. That includes one American, Marla Runyan, who won Paralympic titles in the 100m, 200m, 400m, long jump and pentathlon in classifications for visual impairment before making the 2000 and 2004 Olympic teams in the 1500m.

Brazilian Joaquim Cruz is among those most synonymous with the Olympic and Paralympic movements. Cruz won the 1984 Olympic 800m, then in retirement became a guide runner and coach for the U.S. Paralympic track and field team.

Olympians and Paralympians train together. Most notably, Jessica Long and Michael Phelps for a time were in the same group under Bob Bowman. Long is the second-most decorated U.S. Paralympian in history with 23 medals. Together, Long and Phelps own 51 medals from the Games.

The Tokyo Games will mark the first for which Olympians and Paralympians will receive the same prize money from the USOPC for medals — $37,500 for gold, $22,500 for silver and $15,000 for bronze — increasing Paralympic payouts as much as 400 percent.

NBC’s TV coverage of the Paralympics nearly doubled for the Winter Games from 2014 to 2018. In all, NBC aired 250 hours across TV and digital platforms from PyeongChang.

MORE: Which athletes are qualified for the U.S. Olympic team?

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