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.

 

After an Olympic medal, Ryan Cochran-Siegle sets new goal going into Beaver Creek

Ryan Cochran-Siegle
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For all Ryan Cochran-Siegle accomplished in one special super-G last season — coming back from breaking his neck the year before in the world’s most daunting race to winning the U.S.’ lone Olympic Alpine skiing medal — he prefers to view that winter as a whole.

“It was kind of, I think, still a learning year,” he said in a recent interview. “I realize there was some definitely shortcomings as well [as success] with my races. I think I have a lot more to prove going forward.”

Notably, Cochran-Siegle said his downhill form wasn’t where he wanted it to be. After notching the U.S. men’s first World Cup downhill podium in nearly four years in the 2020-21 season, his best finish in the discipline last season before his Olympic super-G silver medal was sixth at Beaver Creek, Colorado, last December.

“I’d like to get my downhill skiing back to where it was the year prior,” he said. “I ended up doing well by the end of the year, but I think still missing the podium and all that, I’m trying to get more consistent.”

Cochran-Siegle returns to Beaver Creek for the annual Birds of Prey World Cup stop — airing on NBC Sports and Peacock this weekend — as the top hope to extend one American streak and to end one American drought.

The U.S. men’s Alpine team notched at least one World Cup podium every calendar year from 1999 through 2021. It was a regularity in the 2000s and early 2010s between Bode Miller and Ted Ligety. It hasn’t happened often recently, and not at all in 2022 with one month left. But there are plenty of opportunities, starting with a super-G on Friday and downhills Saturday and Sunday on home snow.

Americans often post their best results at Beaver Creek. Last year in a super-G, Travis Ganong picked up his first World Cup podium in nearly five years. In 2019, Tommy Ford earned his first World Cup victory in a giant slalom.

But it has been eight years (five races, more specifically) since an American made a downhill podium at Beaver Creek, the nation’s longest drought since it became an annual World Cup stop in 2004.

Cochran-Siegle opened the speed season last weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta, by posting the best American finish of ninth in a downhill. It was his best result ever at Lake Louise, but it wasn’t satisfying.

“As a team we recognize today was a little bit of a letdown all said and done,” he said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “I think we’re definitely more capable than that.”

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Figure skating TV, live stream schedule for 2022-23 season

Ilia Malinin
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NBC Sports, USA Network, E! and Peacock combine to air live coverage throughout the figure skating season, starting with Skate America in two weeks.

From October to April, the platforms will combine to air more than 200 hours of coverage, including the Grand Prix Series (October to December), the U.S. Championships in January and the world championships in March.

Peacock will live stream coverage of every event at those major competitions throughout the season.

All NBC, USA and E! coverage also streams on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app for subscribers.

Figure skating experienced more change this year than any other in recent history.

Russian skaters are banned indefinitely due to the war in Ukraine. None of the reigning Olympic gold medalists are entered in the fall Grand Prix Series. Yuzuru HanyuAlysa Liu and the ice dance couple of Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue retired.

Enter American Ilia Malinin, the 17-year-old world junior champion who last month became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quadruple Axel in competition. Malinin and Olympic silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama of Japan duel at Skate America, the first top-level event of the season.

The U.S. also has the top returning ice dance couple of Madison Chock and Evan Bates, reigning world pairs’ champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier and Isabeau Levito (15) and Lindsay Thorngren (16), who took gold and bronze at last season’s junior worlds.

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2022-23 Figure Skating Season Broadcast Schedule

Date Competition Time (ET) Platform
Oct. 21 Skate America 7:20-8:45 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 21 Skate America 7:30-10:30 p.m. USA Network
Oct. 21 Skate America 8:45-10:30 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 22 Skate America 2:40-4:15 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 22 Skate America 3-6 p.m. NBC
Oct. 22 Skate America 4:15-6 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 22 Skate America 7:15-8:45 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 22 Skate America 8-11 p.m. USA Network
Oct. 22 Skate America 9-11 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 23 Skate America 1-2:45 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 23 Skate America 3-5 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 23 Skate America 2-5 p.m. E!
Oct. 28 Skate Canada 2-3:30 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 28 Skate Canada 3:45-5:15 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 28 Skate Canada 6:45-8 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 28 Skate Canada 8-9:45 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 29 Skate Canada 1:15-3:15 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 29 Skate Canada 3:25-5 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 29 Skate Canada 6-7:15 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 29 Skate Canada 7:30-9:30 p.m. Peacock
Oct. 30 Skate Canada Noon-1:30 p.m. NBC*
Nov. 4 Internationaux de France 8-9:30 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 4 Internationaux de France 10-11:20 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 4 Internationaux de France 11:45 a.m.-1:15 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 4 Internationaux de France 1:45-3 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 5 Internationaux de France 8-10 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 5 Internationaux de France 10:10-11:45 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 5 Internationaux de France Noon-2 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 5 Internationaux de France 2:10-3 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 6 Internationaux de France 10 a.m.-Noon E!*
Nov. 12 Internationaux de France 2:30-4 p.m. NBC*
Nov. 11 Grand Prix: England 1-2:05 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 11 Grand Prix: England 2:25-4 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 12 Grand Prix: England 8:45-10 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 12 Grand Prix: England 10:20 a.m.-Noon Peacock
Nov. 12 Grand Prix: England 1:30-2:50 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 12 Grand Prix: England 3-5 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 13 Grand Prix: England 6:15-8:05 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 13 Grand Prix: England 8:20-10 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 13 Grand Prix: England 4-6 p.m. NBC*
Nov. 17 NHK Trophy 10:30-11:40 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 18 NHK Trophy 12:15-1:50 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 18 NHK Trophy 2:15-3:35 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 18 NHK Trophy 5-6:35 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 18 NHK Trophy 10-11:20 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 19 NHK Trophy 11:50 p.m.-1:40 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 19 NHK Trophy 2:50-4:25 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 19 NHK Trophy 5:30-7:20 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 20 NHK Trophy 4-6 p.m. NBC*
Nov. 25 Grand Prix: Finland 6-7:05 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 25 Grand Prix: Finland 7:50-9:20 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 25 Grand Prix: Finland 10:45 a.m.-12:20 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 26 Grand Prix: Finland 12:40-2 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 26 Grand Prix: Finland 5:45-7:05 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 26 Grand Prix: Finland 7:20-9:10 a.m. Peacock
Nov. 27 Grand Prix: Finland 11:15 a.m.-1:05 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 27 Grand Prix: Finland 1:25-3 p.m. Peacock
Nov. 27 Grand Prix: Finland 4-6 p.m. NBC*
Dec. 8 Grand Prix Final (Torino) 1:15-2:15 p.m. Peacock
Dec. 8 Grand Prix Final (Torino) 2:30-3:30 p.m. Peacock
Dec. 9 Grand Prix Final (Torino) 11:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m. Peacock
Dec. 9 Grand Prix Final (Torino) 1:45-2:45 p.m. Peacock
Dec. 9 Grand Prix Final (Torino) 3-4 p.m. Peacock
Dec. 10 Grand Prix Final (Torino) 7:30-8:30 a.m. Peacock
Dec. 10 Grand Prix Final (Torino) 6:30-7:30 a.m. E!*
Dec. 10 Grand Prix Final (Torino) 7:30-8:30 a.m. E!
Dec. 10 Grand Prix Final (Torino) 8:30-9:30 a.m. E!*
Dec. 10 Grand Prix Final (Torino) 1:40-2:40 p.m. Peacock
Dec. 10 Grand Prix Final (Torino) 3-4 p.m. Peacock
Dec. 11 Grand Prix: Final (Torino) 3:30-6 p.m. NBC*
Jan. 26 U.S. Championships 7-9 p.m. USA Network
Jan. 26 U.S. Championships 9:30 p.m.-Midnight Peacock
Jan. 26 U.S. Championships 10 p.m.-Midnight USA Network
Jan. 27 U.S. Championships 4:30-7 p.m. Peacock
Jan. 27 U.S. Championships 5-7 p.m. USA Network
Jan. 27 U.S. Championships 8-11 p.m. NBC
Jan. 28 U.S. Championships 2:30-4:30 p.m. NBC
Jan. 28 U.S. Championships 5-7 p.m. Peacock
Jan. 28 U.S. Championships 7-8 p.m. Peacock
Jan. 28 U.S. Championships 8-10 p.m. USA Network
Jan. 29 U.S. Championships 2:15-6 p.m. Peacock
Jan. 29 U.S. Championships 3-6 p.m. NBC
Feb. 5 U.S. Championships 4-6 p.m. NBC*
Jan. 25 European Championships 5:15-8:30 a.m. Peacock
Jan. 25 European Championships 10:20 a.m.-4 p.m. Peacock
Jan. 25 European Championships 2-4 p.m. E!
Jan. 26 European Championships 5-11 a.m. Peacock
Jan. 26 European Championships 9-11 a.m. E!
Jan. 26 European Championships Noon-3 p.m. Peacock
Jan. 27 European Championships 5-10 a.m. Peacock
Jan. 27 European Championships 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Peacock
Jan. 27 European Championships 1-3 p.m. E!
Jan. 28 European Championships 6-10 a.m. Peacock
Jan. 28 European Championships 8-10 a.m. E!
Jan. 28 European Championships 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Peacock
Feb. 5 European Championships 2-4 p.m. NBC*
Feb. 9 Four Continents Championships 2-6 p.m. Peacock
Feb. 9 Four Continents Championships 8 p.m.-Midnight Peacock
Feb. 10 Four Continents Championships 8 a.m.-Noon USA Network*
Feb. 10 Four Continents Championships 1:15-3:30 p.m. Peacock
Feb. 10 Four Continents Championships 4:25-7 p.m. Peacock
Feb. 10 Four Continents Championships 8 p.m.-Midnight Peacock
Feb. 11 Four Continents Championships Noon-2 p.m. E!*
Feb. 11 Four Continents Championships 4:25-7 p.m. Peacock
Feb. 11 Four Continents Championships 8 p.m.-Midnight Peacock
Feb. 12 Four Continents Championships 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. E!*
Feb. 12 Four Continents Championships 3-6 p.m. Peacock
Feb. 19 Four Continents Championships Noon-2 p.m. NBC*
Mar. 21 World Championships 9 p.m.-1 a.m. Peacock
Mar. 22 World Championships 1:45-8 a.m. Peacock
Mar. 22 World Championships 6-8 a.m. USA Network
Mar. 22 World Championships 9 p.m.-1 a.m. Peacock
Mar. 23 World Championships 1:45-8 a.m. Peacock
Mar. 23 World Championships 6-8 a.m. USA Network
Mar. 23 World Championships 8-10 a.m. USA Network*
Mar. 23 World Championships 9:45 p.m.-3:15 a.m. Peacock
Mar. 24 World Championships 4:15-8:30 a.m. Peacock
Mar. 24 World Championships 6:30-8:30 a.m. USA Network
Mar. 24 World Championships 11:30 p.m.-3 a.m. Peacock
Mar. 25 World Championships 4:15-8:30 a.m. Peacock
Mar. 25 World Championships 6:30-8:30 a.m. Peacock
Mar. 25 World Championships 8-10 p.m. NBC*
Apr. 9 World Championships 3-6 p.m. NBC*
Apr. 4 World Synchronized Skating Championships Noon-2 p.m. USA Network*
*taped coverage