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Synopsis

Joe Maddon

Since they went to the World Series in 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays have been a constant force in the playoff race, despite having one of the league's lowest payrolls and competing in the American League East against the powerhouse Yankees and Red Sox. Much of the credit should go to Rays skipper Joe Maddon, who has led the team to three playoff appearance in six years, in the process capturing two A.L. Manager of the Year Awards. REAL SPORTS correspondent Armen Keteyian talks to the charismatic 58-year-old, who recently received a three-year contract extension, as he prepares once again to battle for a post-season berth.

Pau Gasol

Seven-foot Spaniard Pau Gasol is arguably the most athletic big man in the NBA today. After setting nearly every franchise record during seven seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies, he was traded to the storied the Los Angeles Lakers, where he teamed with superstar Kobe Bryant to win back-to-back NBA championships. Entering the shortened 2012 NBA season, Gasol was the subject of constant trade rumors, but with the trade deadline behind him, the four-time all-star can now focus on playing deep into June. REAL SPORTS correspondent Jon Frankel sits down with the 31-year-old Gasol to discuss being a Laker and the pressure that comes with the Hollywood spotlight.

Backcountry

Skiers who conquer a slope routinely seek out a taller, faster and more challenging mountain. But some raise the stakes by taking on unchartered terrain in big-mountain backcountry skiing, where unforeseen cliff drops, unexpected turns and avalanches are among the risks. In this REAL SPORTS/Sports Illustrated collaboration, correspondent Jon Frankel meets three backcountry enthusiasts who have risked life and limb skiing fresh-powder slopes, and asks why they find death-defying activity so enticing.

Alex Zanardi

In 2001, Italian race car driver Alex Zanardi was involved in a horrifying crash at a CART race in Germany that instantly severed both legs.  Although it appeared the two-time CART champion's driving career was finished, he embarked on a remarkable comeback, taking an active role in designing prosthetics that allowed him to resume such everyday activities as walking, swimming and driving. Eventually, he raced again, driving a specially equipped race car that allowed him to shift and accelerate with his hands. More recently, the 45-year-old has turned to handbiking, a form of Paralympic cycling. REAL SPORTS reconnects with Zanardi as he trains for this summer's London Paralympics in the hills of Tuscany. Host Bryant Gumbel reports.

181: April 17, 2012