KRASNAYA POLYANA (AP) – The tears started to come before Joselane Santos saw her score flash on the massive board next to the landing area during women's aerials qualifying on Friday.
They didn't stop when the 48.17 was posted, easily the worst in the 22-skier field.
It wasn't disappointment. The tears were for a friend who couldn't make it to Sochi due to injury — and for acknowledgment of her own unique journey. A year ago she was a former elite gymnast wondering what to do with the rest of her competitive life. On Friday she was perhaps one of the unlikeliest Olympians in Sochi, the first freestyle skier from Brazil to ever make it to the games.
The 29-year-old says she was "chosen" by Brazilian officials to switch from gymnastics to aerials, which is basically sliding down a hill at 30 mph then flinging yourself off a three-story building, doing a series of flips and twists in the process.
Santos hadn't skied on snow until last summer, when she moved to Canada to train. Her inexperience showed. Competitors have six jumps to choose from, all varying in height. Santos skied off the smallest, which didn't even have a "1'' next to it, just an Olympic emblem in what could best be described as aerial's version of the bunny slope.
Santos did two simple back tucks, the aerials equivalent of a layup.
Not that she minded. She waved the Brazilian flag as she made her way off the course in triumph. The host country of the 2016 Summer Olympics sent 13 competitors to Russia, the most ever for a Winter Games.
Santos insists her appearance isn't a publicity stunt. She is already aiming for the 2018 games in Korea. She's come this far in seven months. Four years from now, who knows?