Born in the USA, Wild had no easy ride in Russia

ROSA KHUTOR, Russia Wed Feb 19, 2014 10:08am EST

1 of 2. Russia's Vic Wild competes during the men's snowboard parallel giant slalom qualifying heats at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games in Rosa Khutor February 19, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Blake

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ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Born in the USA but a gold medal winner for Russia, snowboarder Vic Wild made a switch that would have been unthinkable 30 years ago. Without it, he may never have become an Olympic champion.

Minutes after his Russian wife Alena Zavarzina won bronze in the women's snowboard event on Wednesday, Wild crossed the finish line first in the men's parallel giant slalom to the roars of a jubilant Russian crowd.

A cut in funding for the United States Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) slalom program led the 27-year-old to switch to Russia in 2011 after he married Zavarzina. But it has been by no means an easy ride to Olympic glory.

"I went the hard way," Wild told a news conference. "Russia has lots of good riders. Russia has the opportunity for me to win races, not for me to go to the Olympics.

"Russia is the country that has given me the opportunity to win the medal. If I was still riding for the USA I'd be back home, maybe with some mediocre job, doing something mediocre. That's not who I wanted to be."

While Zavarzina was delighted with her bronze medal, she was more eager to talk about her husband's success.

"I'm very happy that Vic got gold," she said, sitting beside him on the podium. "This is what he worked for. He's so far from his hometown, he did an amazing job.

"He had to switch countries, switch nationality, accept something that some people would never accept.

"He has to deal with the Russian mentality, with stuff he's not used to, working with people who don't understand him most of the time."

SERIOUS STUFF

Wild told reporters his path was not for everyone. "It's a serious thing to do. If someone's going to switch their nation, they'd better be very sure of themselves," he told reporters.

"All my friends, they understand," he said of his former U.S. team mates. "They've seen me at my lows, they know that it was very important for me - my entire life - that I make this switch and that I give it one more shot.

"If I hadn't done this, I think I'd always be wondering, ‘what if?' You don't want to live your life like that," he said.

Wild and 24-year-old Zavarazina met in 2009 and were married in July 2011.

"It was the full-on Siberian wedding. We did it in Novosibirsk, it was crazy," he said, admitting that he did not understand much of what was said during the ceremony.

"It was probably more stressful than today. It was the most stressful day of my life," he said, smiling. "I was walking into one building, thinking to myself, 'Dude, you are way too far from home to run!'"

Moving to Moscow has also been something of a culture shock for the young man from White Salmon, Washington, which has a population of just over 2,000.

"Moving to the big city was hard for me, for sure. The first couple of months I was quite depressed, but once I started learning how to enjoy Moscow, life's actually been a lot better," he said.

Wild indicated that some of his Russian team mates were not delighted by his arrival. "My team mates helped me so much," he said wryly. "I don't think many of them like me so much but I really appreciate it."

Wild revealed that he plans to snowboard for another four years, and to learn his new language properly.

"I'm very focused on snowboard and training, and I haven't put in the time I need to for really speaking. I can get around and do simple stuff, but I'm not a Russian speaker," he said.

(Reporting by Philip O'Connor, edited by Robert Woodward)

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Comments (7)
jbeech wrote:
First I’ve heard of this. Then again, I don’t move in snowboarder’s circles. What a strange odyssey for that young man. Mr? I’m not so sure I’d put work and passion ahead of country though. I just couldn’t. My heart goes out to him for making such a decision but I cannot fathom the thinking, which led him to compete for another country. One thing is certain, whomever decided he didn’t have the right stuff to compete for America turns out to be a buffoon, eh?

Feb 21, 2014 6:55am EST  --  Report as abuse
chyron wrote:
@jbeech

Actually afair Wild’s pre-Olympic interview, it was either he ties the knot with gf and rides for our team – or ends his career and go flipping burgers. He said “there were no sponsorship _at_all_ for my training in USA as my sport is not in [some american winter sports challenge]“.

BTW did you notice that most two distinguished newly-Russian athletes are both named Victor?

Feb 22, 2014 11:51am EST  --  Report as abuse
hammerhead993 wrote:
It will be interesting to see if he stays in Russia long term or if he returns to America eventually.

Feb 22, 2014 6:08pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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