After cross-country crash in Sochi, a lesson in crying

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OCHI — Here’s a tricky one: Why do people cry when they are happy? This comes up a lot at the Olympics, as my wife Margo will break into tears at pretty much any point, including during the commercials. A couple of weeks ago, after watching figure skater Jason Brown pull off a near-flawless program at the trials, she broke down in tears. The best part was that when telling us about it later, she broke down in tears again.

This column will lead, by the way, to a story that definitely will make Margo cry again.

Why do we cry when we are happy? It turns out this is actually quite an involved question. I have an emigo — an email friend — named Indre Viskontas, who is both a neuroscientist and an opera singer, which makes her, more or less, the most amazing person on Earth. She is also a new mother, so she was up in the middle of the night to offer a pretty involved answer to this question.

The neurological reason we cry when happy, she says, relates to the “parasympathetic nervous system — the part of the autonomic nervous system that calms us down.” Which is exactly what I was thinking? One theory is that the system cannot really differentiate between different emotions; it only knows when it is emotionally overloaded. So the emotion could be fear, sadness, anger, pain or joy and if that emotion is intense enough it can trigger tears as a release.

“Usually, crying from joy comes after a stressful event – and signals the switch from fight or flight to relief and relaxation,” Viskontas says. “The more stressful the event, the greater the opposite response when the stress is relieved.”

That explains why everyone cried at the end of “Toy Story 3.” You know (spoiler alert), the toys were almost incinerated and then they were destined for the attic and instead they ended up at that little girls house, and Woody was going to go with Andy to college but instead … Okay, I have to stop now.

VIDEO: Broken ski doesn’t stop Gafarov from finishing

The more fascinating question is the psychological one. Why do we cry at all? There are disagreements. Viskontas says one theory is that crying is our body’s response to a perception of helplessness. You have to stretch a bit, though, to connect that with happy crying. A second theory is that crying is tied to other variable personality traits. This makes a lot of sense, since different people are more or less likely to cry.

But I think the most interesting theory is that crying connects us with each other. In this theory, we cry as a way to bond, a way to link our sadness or anger or fear or joy with the world. This idea speaks to me. Happy crying seems to me to come from a deep connection with someone or something, whether it’s Woody and Buzz getting a new child to play with at the end of “Toy Story 3,” or Dan Jansen winning that speed skating gold medal after a career of heartbreak, or that “Thank You Mom” commercial that shows mothers raising children who become Olympians. It’s as if simple happiness is not big enough to express the connection with something graceful or kind or plainly decent. So people cry.

That connection is particularly powerful for many at the Olympics. Everyone knows that the Olympic Games overflow with all sorts of negative things — corruption, waste, greed, on and on — but there is a strain of innocence and wonder, too. This is why so many people around the world care. The athletes, mostly, are not millionaires. They are regular people you know, people who have real jobs, people who sacrifice because they truly love their sports and deeply believe in an Olympic ideal they formed when they were children.

Russia’s Anton Gafarov is this kind of athlete. He’s a 27-year-old cross-country skier, and this is his first Olympics. He was not really a medal contender, but being able to compete here was incredibly important to him. “I couldn’t imagine my life without skiing,” he told reporters. “For me, skiing is like breathing.”

VIDEO: Cross country sprint has crazy finish

But Gafarov wanted to finish the race. So he pulled himself along. The sprint lasts about three and a half minutes. And so when the others had finished, he was still in the middle of the course, fighting his way step by step. It just didn’t seem like he would get there.

And then someone raced up to him. He was carrying a ski. That was Justin Wadsworth, the Canadian head coach. Wadsworth is actually an American — he’s a three-time U.S. Olympian — and he has a reputation as an open and warm person. He had taken the job to help build Canada’s fledgling cross-country team (no Canadian man has ever won an Olympic cross-country medal). Wadsworth’s team didn’t do too well on Tuesday — not one Canadian reaching the semifinal — and he wasn’t in the best mood.

But then, while rushing out to catch the end of the semifinal, he saw Gafarov trying to move forward. “It was like watching an animal stuck in a trap,” Wadsworth told the Toronto Star. Instinctively, he found a spare ski, and he rushed down to Gafarov.

Neither man said a word. There wasn’t anything to say. Gafarov stopped. Wadsworth kneeled down and removed the old ski. He put the new one on. And Gafarov took off toward the end.

Gafarov finished the race long after everyone else. But he finished.

“I wanted him to have dignity as he crossed the finish line,” Wadsworth said. He did not really understand why this was a story. Anyone would do it, he said.

But this is the thing, isn’t it? Anyone might wish they did it. But only one man actually did.

And right now, back in America, Margo is crying because – well, because maybe it is a way to connect with people and with something beautiful. Or maybe it’s just a parasympathetic nervous system response to a sweet story. Either way, it’s only a matter of time before the Olympics make her cry again.

 

Alex Ferreira wins Olympic qualifier, crowds U.S. ski halfpipe standings

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BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — U.S. Olympic qualifying is more than halfway done for the men’s freeski halfpipe team, and the picture remains crowded.

On Friday, Alex Ferreira boosted his chances of making his first Olympic team after winning Dew Tour Breckenridge, which served as the third U.S. selection event for ski halfpipe.

Ferreira’s winning run was full of amplitude and featured four doubles, including double cork 1260s spun in both directions.

One of the more demonstrative skiers in the field, an exuberant Ferreira whipped his ski poles around his head in celebration is he rode into the corral. “Oh my god, that was glorious!” he exclaimed after one of his runs.

“I’ve been working on that run since two years ago,” Ferreira said afterwards. “I just wanted to land the run, I didn’t care about the results. To be able to do that — hands down, best day of my life. It was my best halfpipe run ever.”

Finishing behind him was 2014 Olympian Aaron Blunck, who made his mark by showcasing a diverse array of technical tricks.

The final podium spot was claimed by France’s Kevin Rolland. The Sochi Olympic bronze medalist put his signature amplitude on display and was the only rider to land a double cork 1440.

It’s the first podium finish of the U.S. Olympic qualifying season for both Blunck and Ferreira. Skiers need a minimum of two top-three results in order to be eligible for automatic selection to the team, so they’re halfway there with two qualifiers left.

Up to three skiers can earn automatic spots on the team. Should more than three skiers get two podium finishes, then the team will be determined by a ranking list that factors in each skier’s two best results.

So far, six U.S. men have a top-three result at one of the selection events. No one has hit the two-podium minimum yet though.

Ferreira and 2014 Olympians David Wise and Torin Yater-Wallace have each won one of the selection events, putting them one victory away from confirming their nominations to the Olympic team. (Yater-Wallace was fourth in Breckenridge, Wise was 10th.)

However, accomplishing that feat is easier said than done.

“Sometimes I almost think it would be harder to make the Olympic team than do well in the Olympics,” Ferreira said. “It’s not easy stuff.”

The skiers will now have to wait until January for the final two Olympic qualifiers.

“These next couple months are definitely going to be pretty stressful,” Blunck said. “But I think Alex and I are both going at it with a grain of salt. We’re trying not to think about it as Olympic qualifiers, because at the end of the day, it’s still skiing for us and we’re enjoying our time out there.”

Breckenridge also hosted the third Olympic qualifier for the women’s halfpipe team.

Although U.S. women made up five of the eight skiers in the final, Maddie Bowman was the only one who finished on the podium. It’s a huge boon to the Olympic hopes of the reigning gold medalist, as she has now fulfilled the minimum criteria of two top-three finishes.

Bowman showed her technicality be spinning 900s in both directions during her run, but she ended up in third behind Canada’s Cassie Sharpe and France’s Marie Martinod, the 2014 Olympic silver medalist.

Sharpe and Martinod are both considered gold medal contenders for PyeongChang.

“I’m really excited because I feel like I’m really starting to break through on my grabbing,” a confident Bowman said. “I’m excited to go to the camp and work on that for the next events coming up.”

While she hasn’t mathematically confirmed her spot yet, a lot would have to happen for Bowman not to make the Olympic team.

Aside from Bowman, Devin Logan remains the only other U.S. woman with a top-three finish at a selection event.

Another podium at either of the final two contests could ultimately lock her into a spot. For the rest of the hopefuls, they will need to get on the podium at both of those events. Otherwise, the final spots will be awarded at the discretion of the coaching staff.

Breckenridge will also host selection events for ski slopestyle and snowboard halfpipe and slopestyle this weekend.

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Olympic team

Olympic Qualifying Standings
Ski Halfpipe 
(through three of five events)
1. Torin Yater-Wallace — 150*
2. David Wise — 132*
3. Aaron Blunck — 130*
4. Alex Ferreira — 122*
5. Gus Kenworthy — 104*

1. Maddie Bowman — 140**
2. Devin Logan — 130*
3. Annalisa Drew — 95
4. Brita Sigourney — 90
5. Carly Margulies — 72
**Has automatic qualifying minimum of two top-three results.
*Has one top-three result.

Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic logo unveiled

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The logos for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games were unveiled at one of Beijing’s iconic Olympic venues — the Water Cube, where Michael Phelps won eight gold medals in 2008.

Beijing will become the first city to host a Summer and a Winter Olympics in February 2022.

The logos unveiled Friday — which replace the Candidate City logo used when Beijing beat Almaty, Kazakhstan, in a 2015 IOC members vote for the 2022 Games — are named “Winter Dream” (Olympics) and “Flying High” (Paralympics), according to Xinhua News Agency.

The designs were chosen from 4,506 worldwide submissions, according to Chinese media.

“The Olympic emblem was initially drawn on the idea of the Chinese character ‘dong’ (winter) in the bid emblem, with the character rendered in Chinese calligraphy representing Chinese culture,” designer Lin Cunzhen said, according to the Xinhua. “Meanwhile, a pattern combining ice sports and snow sports was used to represent the Olympic Games.”

More from Beijing 2022:

The upper part of the emblem resembles a skater and its lower part a skier. The ribbon-like motif in between, full of rhythm, stands for the host country’s rolling mountains, Games venues, ski courses and skating tracks. The ribbons, as artistically expressed in the emblem, give a touch of festivity and are an indication that the Games coincide with the celebrations of the Chinese New Year.

The Water Cube will become the Ice Cube for the 2022 Olympics, hosting curling. The Bird’s Nest will host the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, as it did for the 2008 Olympics.

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MORE: Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic promo video

The emblem for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games is shown after being unveiled at a ceremony at the National Aquatics Center, also known as the Water Cube, in Beijing, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
The emblem for the 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympic Games is shown after being unveiled at a ceremony at the National Aquatics Center, also known as the Water Cube, in Beijing, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
The 2008 Beijing Olympic logo. (Getty Images)