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.

 

Adam Rippon tops Tonya Harding, is sixth Olympian to win Dancing with the Stars

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Adam Rippon‘s dream year now includes a “Dancing with the Stars” title.

Rippon topped fellow Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding and Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman to win an all-athletes season of the series.

Olympian winners in the previous 25 seasons were all gold medalists: Apolo OhnoKristi YamaguchiShawn JohnsonMeryl Davis and Laurie Hernandez.

Rippon, 28, took team bronze at his first and last Games in PyeongChang in February, making the Olympics in his third and final try in January as the oldest U.S. Olympic rookie singles skater in 82 years.

The outspoken, charismatic Rippon became one of the biggest mainstream stars of the winter sports season after nearly missing the Olympic team in finishing fourth at nationals in January. He was then 10th at the Olympics.

In March, Rippon attended the Oscars and met Reese Witherspoon. In April, he was named to the Time 100 and in People Magazine’s Beautiful issue.

Rippon successfully managed a hectic travel schedule the last month, dotting the country for Stars on Ice shows while squeezing in rehearsals and live “Dancing” episodes in Los Angeles the last four Mondays.

On the finale, Rippon and partner Jenna Johnson recorded the first perfect score for the abbreviated season — 10s from all three judges on their first of two dances. Harding and Norman later scored straight 10s on their second dances.

Rippon scored 28 out of 30 on his last dance, wearing a bowl-cut wig, and had the highest combined total of judges scores on the night. The winner was determined by a combination of viewer voting and judges scores.

Harding finished higher than Olympic rival Nancy Kerrigan did on the show last year.

Olympians/Paralympians on Dancing with the Stars
Season 1 
— Evander Holyfield (1984, boxing)
Season 4 — Apolo Ohno (2002-2010, short track speed skating) — WINNER, Clyde Drexler (1992, basketball)
Season 5 — Floyd Mayweather Jr. (1996, boxing)
Season 6 — Kristi Yamaguchi (1992, figure skating) — WINNER, Monica Seles (1996-2000, tennis)
Season 7 — Maurice Greene (2000-2004, track and field), Misty May-Treanor (2000-2012, volleyball)
Season 8 — Shawn Johnson (2008, gymnastics) — WINNER
Season 9 — Louie Vito (2010, snowboarding), Natalie Coughlin (2004-2012, swimming)
Season 10 — Evan Lysacek (2006-2010, figure skating)
Season 12 — Sugar Ray Leonard (1976, boxing)
Season 13 — Hope Solo (2004-2016, soccer)
Season 14 — Martina Navratilova (2004, tennis)
Season 15 — Shawn Johnson, Apolo Ohno
Season 16 — Dorothy Hamill (1976, figure skating), Aly Raisman (2012-2016, gymnastics)
Season 18 — Meryl Davis (2010-2014, figure skating) — WINNER, Charlie White (2010-2014, figure skating), Amy Purdy (2014, snowboarding)
Season 19 — Lolo Jones (2008, 2012, 2014, track and field/bobsled)
Season 20 — Nastia Liukin (2008, gymnastics)
Season 23 — Laurie Hernandez (2016, gymnastics) — WINNER, Ryan Lochte (2004-2016, swimming)
Season 24 — Simone Biles (2016, gymnastics), Nancy Kerrigan (1992-94, figure skating)
Season 25 — Victoria Arlen (2012, swimming)
Season 26 — Adam Rippon (2018, figure skating) — WINNER, Jamie Anderson (2014-18, snowboarding), Chris Mazdzer (2010-18, luge), Jennie Finch (2004-08, softball), Mirai Nagasu (2010, 2018, figure skating), Tonya Harding (1992-94, figure skating)

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Olympian sues USA Swimming to allege sexual abuse cover-up

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SEATTLE (AP) — Olympic swimmer Ariana Kukors Smith sued USA Swimming on Monday, alleging the sport’s national governing body knew her former coach sexually abused her as a minor and covered it up.

Kukors Smith filed the lawsuit in Superior Court in Orange County, California. She alleges Sean Hutchison, who began coaching her at a swim club near Seattle, groomed her for sexual abuse when she was 13, started touching and kissing her when she was 16 and engaging in sexual activity with her when she was 17.

Hutchison has denied the allegations and has not been charged with a crime.

Kukors Smith also is suing longtime Olympic coach Mark Schubert, saying he failed to report “a reasonable suspicion of child abuse or endangerment.”

Kukors Smith, the 2009 World champion in the 200m individual medley who placed fifth in that event at the 2012 Games, told reporters that “by doing nothing,” USA Swimming “enabled Sean Hutchison to abuse me for a decade.”

USA Swimming hired a private investigator to look into rumors of a relationship between the two in 2010. The organization said it closed the investigation without finding any misconduct after they and others denied the relationship.

The lawsuit says top USA Swimming officials knew in 2005 of allegations of Hutchison having inappropriate relationships with underage swimmers, including Kukors Smith, who was then 16.

Top officials at the governing body, according to the lawsuit, also manipulated a background screening system to shield coaches accused of abuse.

“Those at USA Swimming need to change the culture of protecting predator coaches over young and vulnerable athletes such as myself,” Kukors Smith said.

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