Vic Wild wins gold for Russia
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Vic Wild and wife Alena Zavarzina have some new jewelry to go with their wedding rings: Olympic medals.
Wild rolled to victory in men's snowboarding parallel giant slalom on Wednesday, ripping past Nevin Galmarini in the second run of the finals to win gold for his adopted country of Russia. Zan Kosir of Slovenia took the bronze.
Wild's triumph came just minutes after his wife raced to bronze in the women's event.
"It's incredible to win it along with Alena,'' Wild said. "We're together all the time. If one of us has success and one of us doesn't, it's great -- but it's not that great.
"For both of us to have success on the same day, it's truly incredible. I don't know how this happened. It's too good to be true.''
After weeks of warm sunshine, a front that moved through Tuesday dumped a fresh batch of snow. Officials tried to protect the course, but it was a bit of a hard mess in which racers struggled with their lines as they rolled from gate to gate.
Wild had his moments, too. He nearly washed out twice during the first finals run, barely holding on after it appeared his board was ready to tip over. Moving from the blue course to the seemingly faster red course for the second run, he overcame the 0.54-second deficit he faced with relative ease.
He thrust his arms skyward in victory, leading to the unusual sight of an American born near the end of the Cold War being showered with adoration from a highly partisan home crowd of Russian fans.
"I'm so stoked to win it for Russia,'' he said. "Everybody thinks, 'But he's American, he's American.' It's not true. I'm not some dude in the U.S. who decides it'll be easy for me to make the Olympics in a country that doesn't do any snowboarding. ... I went the hard way.''
Zavarzina sprinted to embrace her husband after he captured gold while a large, heavily pro-Russian crowd waved flags and roared its appreciation. After the flower ceremony, Wild and his wife stood side by side holding a massive Russian flag and drinking in the moment.
It started five years ago while they were traveling in the same pack on the World Cup snowboard racing circuit. Vic, born and raised in White Salmon, Wash., competed for the United States. Alena, a native of Novosibirsk, rode for Russia.
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"When I first met her, I knew something was a little different, so I was very careful with how our relationship went," Wild said. "Very, very, very careful."
Love bloomed. Zavarzina, the 2011 world champion, doesn't enjoy sharing every little detail. "I'll tell them when I'm old, in my memoir," she said.
Meanwhile, parallel giant slalom -- essentially Alpine racing on a snowboard -- was going nowhere in America, even after its greatest moment in that country, the stirring bronze-medal victory of liver transplant survivor Chris Klug at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
Financial support dwindled. Wild saw where things were headed and dreamed about how great it would be to ride for Russia.
Neither Wild, 27, nor Alena, 24, considered themselves the marrying types. But that was the quickest way for Wild to gain citizenship and a chance to compete for a country that puts more money than America into this more Europe-centric version of snowboarding.
So, they tied the knot in July 2011 in what Wild described as "a full-on Siberian wedding."
"It was crazy and probably more stressful than today," he said. "I was so scared. Walking into one building and thinking to myself, 'Dude, you're way too far away to run.' I had to walk through. Best decision I ever made."
The gold-medal payoff came on a sun-soaked afternoon on the mountain where hundreds of Russian fans chanted "Mo-Lo-Detz, Mo-Lo-Detz" -- Russian for "Well Done" -- every time Wild and Zavarzina came down the hill and won, which was a lot.
"This is what he worked for,'' Zavarzina said. "He went so far, so far from his hometown and he did an amazing job. He had to switch countries, switch nationalities and accept something that some would never accept.''
Wild said the choice was easy: Russia wanted him. The United States did not.
"If I was still riding (for the United States), I'd be back home with some mediocre job doing something mediocre," he said. "That's not what I wanted to be. I wanted to be the best I could be. I'm so stoked to win for Russia."
He said he's not tying this victory to any message for the powers that run snowboarding in America. The U.S. has won a world-leading five snowboard medals at these Olympics, four of them in the halfpipe or slopestyle course and one in the more TV-friendly racing discipline of snowboardcross.
The country sent only one parallel giant slalom rider to the Olympics -- Justin Reiter, a longtime friend of Wild who finished 24th.
"People in the U.S. don't understand it, and if they don't understand it, they don't connect with it," said Wild's mother, Carol Wild-DeLano. "So, then, it's less TV coverage. The funding gets reduced. It tunnels into the ground eventually."
Maybe in America. Certainly not in Russia, where there could yet be more fun on the mountain.
In an effort to get more Europeans, and Russians, involved at the snowboard park, the International Olympic Committee added another version of this event -- the shorter parallel slalom -- to the program for this year.
The debut of that event is set for Saturday, and Zavarzina and Wild will be in those races, too.
"It's a beautiful sports story," said Svetlana Gladysheva, the former Alpine skier who is now the president of the Russian ski federation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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