Russian Olympics ban threatens former Steamboat snowboarder
Editor’s note: The quotes from snowboarder Vic Wild in this story were updated to reflect a more accurate translation of his interview.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Russian-American gold medal snowboarder Vic Wild, who trained in Steamboat Springs, expressed frustration and doubts in an interview with a Latvian news outlet following the International Olympic Committee’s decision to ban Russia from competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics, set for February in PyeongChang, South Korea, after allegations of systematic, state-sponsored doping to support Russian athletes at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“I assumed this was going to happen. Honestly, I’m really bummed out,” Wild said in an interview with Alexandra Vladimirova of the online news outlet Meduza.
The extensive interview, translated from Russian to English, touched on Wild’s thoughts on the ban, on Russian doping and on his own relationship with Russia and the United States.
“It’s very upsetting. I’ve looked into this, to try to understand this whole Sochi scandal, and there’s just not very much real evidence that anybody did anything,” he said in the interview. “I’m not saying that nothing happened. Maybe something did happen. I don’t know. But there’s no really clear evidence that says the athletes knew about the system or that the athletes participated in the system.”
Wild grew up in White Salmon, Washington, then trained for Alpine snowboarding in Steamboat Springs until the United States Ski and Snowboard Association pulled funding for alpine snowboarding athletes.
Lacking any financial support from the United States to continue in his sport, Wild eventually left the country and became a Russian citizen, the native country of his wife, fellow rider Alena Zavarzina. He joined the Russian snowboarding team ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, then shined on his new “home” snow over two incredible days. He won both the parallel giant slalom and parallel slalom events.
The fairy tale story took a twist this week, however, when the IOC banned the Russian team from the 2018 Games for an extensive doping scheme that was implemented in the Sochi Olympics.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Wild won’t be able to compete. Individual Russian athletes not connected to doping allegations will be invited to compete in PyeongChang under the neutral Olympic banner rather than the Russian flag.
Russia won the medal count in 2014, winning 33 medals, 13 of them gold. It was a crowning achievement for the host country, more than double the number of medals won in 2010 (15) and the Russia’s first finish atop the standings since 1988 when it competed with the Soviet Union.
Russian medal counts have a history proven less than permanent, however. The country has been stripped of 49 medals in summer and winter Olympics since 2002. That’s included 17 in the Winter Olympics and 11 in Sochi.
Neither Wild nor Zavarzina, a 2014 Olympic bronze medalist, have been connected to any of the allegations, and Wild vigorously rejected that they may be.
“We went to Sochi and we did what we did the right way, like many other athletes. Nothing can ever take that away,” he said. “I still look back on everything and I’m so proud. If anybody ever questions how I won the Olympics twice, I can say honestly that I felt like I had 140 million Russians helping me down the slope, cheering for me. I really had a reason to win. It really made me feel super special to do that for so many people who were looking for that positivity. It was a very beautiful experience.”
The loophole allowed by the IOC to compete under a neutral flag means the couple would likely get the opportunity to compete in PyeongChang if they want it.
That “if they want it” may be a question, however.
“We haven’t decided yet,” Wild said to Meduza. “I want to talk to some of the Summer athletes who are competing now, or some of the other athletes who have competed under the neutral flag, so I can understand what it’s like. But that’s not something that I’m looking forward to. It’s embarrassing.
“If I felt like Russia deserved it, then it would be different. But I truly believe that this is not the right way. I really don’t believe that so many people were involved. It’s possible, yes, that some stuff happened. But I don’t think that it was on the scale that they’re portraying it to be. I don’t think it was such a big system. If it was such a big system, I would have seen it.”
Wild’s stayed fast in the years since his gold medals. He was second in the PGS World Cup season standings in 2015, then sixth in 2016 and 10th last year. He’s been top-10 in all four World Championship races since 2014, as well.
He said there have been no efforts on his part and no overtures from the United States for a return to his native country. Rather, he said he’s grown more and more comfortable in his new nation, despite the new complications in his quest to return to the Olympics.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to America for anything more than a vacation,” he said. “I don’t really identify so much with Americans anymore — even though I’m a pretty stereotypical American person, I guess. I’m kinda over it. I like the new life that I live. I like the things that I do. My business and my life right now is generally in Europe and in Moscow.
“I came to Russia with nothing. I have a cool life. I like what I do. I really enjoy Moscow. Generally, I’m much happier every year, and I like my life a little bit more.”
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