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Sochi Games: U.S.-born snowboarder Vic Wild wins gold — for Russia

Vic Wild, who took Russian citizenship after struggling to find support for his snowboarding in the U.S., wins the men's parallel giant slalom. His wife, Alena Zavarzina, gets bronze in the women's running of the event.

February 19, 2014|By Lisa Dillman
  • Vic Wild claimed the gold medal in the men's snowboard parallel giant slalom Wednesday for Russia, the country he left the United States for in 2011.
Vic Wild claimed the gold medal in the men's snowboard parallel giant… (Javier Soriano / Getty Images )

SOCHI, Russia — There was the latest Russian gold medalist atop the podium after his stirring victory in the men's parallel giant slalom, a win that thrilled the jubilant, flag-waving home crowd at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on Wednesday afternoon.

Meet Vic Wild.

Not Viktor.

Wild reversed the immigration pattern, first finding love, a new life in Moscow and then gold. He was born and raised in White Salmon, Wash., married Russian snowboarder Alena Zavarzina (who won a bronze in the women's parallel giant slalom a few minutes before his race) in 2011 and applied for Russian citizenship.

FRAMEWORK: Best images from Sochi

Saying he was frustrated by a lack of support, he quit riding for the U.S. and embraced his new country.

Russia embraced him back.

"I'm so stoked to win it for Russia," Wild said. "I live in Russia. Everybody thinks, 'Oh, he's an American.' It's not true.

"I'm not like some dude that lives in the United States and decides, 'Oh, man, it'll be easy for me to go to the Olympics and go to some country that doesn't do anything.' Some country that doesn't have any athletes. I went the hard way. Russia has lots of good riders."

His victory sparked a range of emotions among family and friends. Wild's mother, Carol Wild-Delano, a high school teacher in Yakima, Wash., said the whole experience did not seem "really real."

Zavarzina said she felt like crying.

"This is very motivational, what happened to me today, to us as a family," she said. "It was not easy. It was not like everything that happened today was given to us. This definitely was not the easiest road, not paved with gold.

"The road to Sochi 2014 is way harder for me than road to Vancouver 2010."

Longtime friend and U.S. rider Justin Reiter was having a hard time fighting his emotions behind his goggles. Reiter, who did not make it to the knockout rounds, is no stranger to the same struggles Wild has faced.

Reiter works hard at drumming up sponsorships, and cuts corners in every way possible to make ends meet, including living in his truck.

"He sacrificed everything to get what he wanted," Reiter said. "He has the support of a country behind him and never stopped working…. He had so much pressure coming into the Games, the investment for this country. He had to perform and he's the Olympic champion.

"Anyone who knows his story would be emotional."

Wild said he held no grudges but said he never would have continued to compete had he stayed in the United States.

"Russia is the country that's given me an opportunity to win a medal," Wild said. "If I was still riding for the USSA [U.S. Ski and Snowboard Assn.], I'd be back home.

"Maybe with some mediocre job, doing something mediocre. It's not what I wanted to be. I wanted to try to be the best I thought I could be."

The USSA did not respond to questions about its relationship with Wild but did send a congratulatory tweet about Wild's gold medal, adding that it respected his decision to ride for Russia and was happy for his success.

Before the move to Russia, Wild-Delano said her son was funded largely through family and sponsors but the money became harder to secure after the U.S. financial crisis in 2008.

"Some races he couldn't go to because he couldn't afford to," she said.

Those times were not so front and center for Wild. He has another event in Sochi, another possible medal. And perhaps a certain beverage he would eventually like to drink to celebrate his gold medal.

"It would be nice to have a beer," Wild said. "They won't let us drink beer in the athletes' village."

Twitter: @reallisa

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