Former US snowboarder Wild wins parallel giant slalom 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 us to have success, it's truly incredible. I don't know how this happened. It's too good to be true."
Patrizia Kummer gave Switzerland its sixth gold medal in Sochi when Japan's Tomoka Takeuchi lost an edge halfway through the second run of the women's final. The silver for Takeuchi was the first ever for a Japanese rider in the event.
"My podium is not for just Japan," Takeuchi said. "I want to say thank you to whole world."
Zavarzina had little trouble in the consolation round, beating Ina Meschik of Austria by nearly a second for bronze.
Zavarzina sprinted to embrace her husband after he captured gold while a large, heavily pro-Russian crowd 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 capped a career revival for Wild, who grew up in White Salmon, Wash., but applied for Russian citizenship after marrying Zavarzina in Siberia in 2011. He joined the Russian snowboarding team and praised his new country for its investment in the sport that is snowboarding's answer to Alpine skiing.
Wild has repaid his new home in full. The 27-year-old placed third at last year's world championships and was easily the best on a challenging day at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
"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."
The couple share a small apartment in Moscow -- barely 300 square feet -- but Wild has no split allegiances about who deserves credit for the medal he thought would never come while toiling away in a program that receives only a fraction of the support given to other disciplines within the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.
"Russia is the country that's given me the opportunity to win," Wild said. "If I was still riding for (the U.S.) I'd still be back home, with a mediocre job doing something mediocre. That's not what I wanted to be."
After weeks of warm sunshine, a front that moved through Tuesday dumped a fresh batch of snow on the course at Rosa Khutor. Officials tried to protect it, 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."
Kummer narrowly edged Zavarzina in the semifinals of the women's event and was in the clear when Takeuchi lost control in the finals.