Vic Wild: The US-born snowboarder set to retire as a Russian sporting hero
Former US snowboarder Victor Wild, who changed his citizenship to represent Russia, has crowned his illustrious career by taking another Olympic medal, which he has signaled may well be his last appearance at the Games.
The 35-year-old veteran said he would retire if he won a medal at this year’s Games, and he did it in style, turning all the pre-tournament predictions upside down.
His third-place finish on Tuesday seemed to come out of nowhere after Wild barely made it onto the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) team for the Beijing Games, clinching the fourth and last spot on the men’s parallel giant slalom roster.
Wild's tears after sealing his bronze medal at the Genting Snow Park Stadium were testament to just how much toil has gone into this particular achievement.
“To be honest, to take all of that and to say another four years of what I'm doing now just to come to the Olympics, I doubt that I can,” Wild said.
“I doubt it's the right thing for me to keep trying,” he added, before saying the would have to “think about it in time.”
From US upset to Sochi superstar
If Beijing does go down in history as the last outing for Wild, he had already become a bona fide hero in Russia after winning two golds at the Sochi Games back in 2014.
His story up to that point had been a remarkable one.
Wild grew up in White Salmon, Washington, and competed for the American team before the United States Ski and Snowboard Association shut down its alpine snowboarding program in 2010, considering parallel slalom to be its least successful discipline after halfpipe, slopestyle, and snowboard cross.
Lack of funding pushed Wild to find other methods to keep his sporting career alive. Circumstances helped the snowboarder find a solution when he made a 180-degree turn not only in his career, but his life in general. He fell in love with Russian snowboarder Alena Zavarzina and married her in 2011, applying for citizenship in her country.
Competing for Russia, Wild was propelled to glory at the 2014 Games in Sochi, where he grabbed two gold medals after ranking ninth in the world the previous season.
Wild was hailed for his Olympic success in his new homeland, and was seen as raising snowboarding to a completely new level in Russia.
The wilderness years for Wild
But a downturn in results followed.
Wild failed to repeat his success at the PyeongChang Olympics in 2018, as Russia’s participation in the Games hung in the balance until the last moment.
An unprecedented doping scandal and controversial allegations left many of the country’s top stars without a place at the Olympics.
Wild only found out he was eligible to compete several days before the opening ceremony. Extreme nervousness and uncertainty seemed to affect his performance, where he finished in a disappointing 10th place.
Fast forward to this year's Games in Beijing, and Wild was ranked 24th in the world heading into the competition, with one World Cup podium in the last five years.
“Most people didn't even think I belonged on this team,” said Wild. “But, you know, I just had to race.”
That status even within his own team meant Wild seen as a major outsider for medal contention in Beijing.
Final flourish in Beijing
But experience prevailed over youth, and Wild consistently eliminated his rivals, moving forward to his Olympic dream.
In the first round in Beijing, Wild saw off a Russian teammate – three-time world champion Dmitry Loginov – before knocking out Sangho Lee of South Korea, the fastest rider in the qualifying rounds.
Wild stumbled in the semi-final, where he was beaten by Tim Mastnak of Slovenia, but didn’t miss his chance to clinch an Olympic medal, winning his bronze-medal race against Roland Fischnaller of Italy.
Wild now has a personal collection of three Olympic medals after his double success at the 2014 Games in Sochi in the men’s parallel slalom and parallel giant slalom events.
That achievement eight years ago had seen Wild become the first snowboarder in history to win two medals at the same Olympics.
After his podium finish in Beijing, Wild hinted at his retirement, stressing that he would be ending his career on a positive note.
He further endeared himself to his adopted homeland with a colorful interview speaking Russian when he was told just how close the margin had been in his quarterfinal with South Korea's Lee Sang-ho.
Even Zavarzina, with whom Wild split last year, was part of the calls for further recognition for his achievements as she said he would be a worthy bearer of the ROC team's flag at the closing ceremony in Beijing.
Whether that happens or not, Victor Wild can ride off into the sunset, safe in the knowledge that his place in Olympic – and Russian – folklore is secure.
By Elena Dilber