Vic Wild

From Russia With Love: Snowboarder Vic Wild leaves U.S. to compete as Russian

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Snowboarder Vic Wild was born and raised in White Salmon, Wash.

He will ride for Russia at the Sochi Olympics.

Wild, a medal threat in Alpine snowboarding, started dating a Russian snowboarder three years ago, moved to Moscow, married her and has represented Russia ever since.

The drastic change came at a career crossroads in 2011. Wild, then 24, had been competing since his mid-teens with zero top-five finishes in World Cup races.

Alpine is the only Olympic snowboarding discipline not in the Winter X Games, the sport’s annual showcase event. Sponsors are scant in the U.S. Money is meager.

Wild was prepared to quit, dissatisfied not only with his results but also support and funding from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association [USSA].

He said he lacked coaching, snowboard technicians and the kind of logistical aid to travel from competition to competition.

“People didn’t really want to help me there [in the U.S.],” Wild said in a phone interview. “The USA wasn’t into it, man.”

Wild was hardly the first non-elite Olympic sports athlete to deal with those hardships. He also held no ill-will towards the United States.

But as he contemplated his future, Wild began dating Russian Alpine snowboarder Alena Zavarzina, whom he had known since 2009 and had just won a World Championship in January 2011.

Wild spent extended time with Zavarzina in Moscow, and a Russian coach proposed a solution so he could keep riding.

Switch countries.

“It was a little bit crazy, but I wasn’t that worried about it,” said Wild, whose given name, Victor Ivan, sounds Russian. “I knew it would give me an opportunity to stay with Alena, which she was really important to me at the time. And also it would give me a chance to reach my goals in snowboarding. I knew that if I gave up, stopped, then I would probably be bitter about it.

“But we hit some roadblocks.”

The Russia Ministry of Sport criteria required Wild to have won an Olympic or World Championships medal to gain citizenship. Wild had never competed in the Olympics, and his best World Championships finish was 10th.

There was one other option, officials said. Marriage.

Wild and Zavarzina discussed it thoroughly both in Russia and during a monthlong trip to Wild’s home in the Pacific Northwest.

“We decided, you know what, let’s go for it, let’s get married,” he said. “We decided it’s the only chance we’ve got. We both kind of new that it would work out.”

They wed in Zavarzina’s hometown of Novosibirsk in July 2011, one week after Wild met her father. Wild is not much of a drinker, but he took a customary vodka shot at the ceremony. And another shot. And another.

Both families approved of the marriage.

“I think [my parents] knew that I was having a hard time snowboarding [in the U.S.],” Wild said. “They were cool with whatever I did. If I wanted to stop snowboarding and go to school, they would have definitely supported that. They were really supportive of me not giving up.”

Wild had to sit out the 2011-12 season, but he came back and thrived under his new flag with increased financial support, better training competition and more officials aiding race registration and board maintenance. Russia was pouring money into many sports as an emphasis was put on boosting medal prospects at a home Olympics.

Wild took bronze at the 2013 World Championships and won his first World Cup event two weeks ago. The USSA is glad Wild is performing well and believes the switch has worked well for him.

Zavarzina hasn’t been as fortunate. She has not made a World Cup podium since her 2011 World Championship and broke an arm earlier this month, but Wild said she is ready to go for the Olympics.

They could compete on the same days in Sochi — Feb. 19 for parallel giant slalom and Feb. 22 for parallel slalom.

Wild will be the third American-born athlete to compete for Russia in an Olympics and the first to do so in a Winter Games, according to Olympic historians.

The others were basketball players J.R. Holden, a 1990s Bucknell point guard, and Becky Hammon, who both played at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. They represented Russia after playing in professional leagues there.

Volleyball player Tatyana Sarycheva was born in New York and won gold for the Soviet Union in the 1968 and 1972 Olympics.

Hammon, a six-time WNBA All-Star and also a 2012 Olympian, received some criticism for her switch to Russia and joked that it was a “national fiasco.”

Many athletes who switch nations — it is becoming more common these days, especially foreign-born American athletes — are asked to defend themselves against traitor talk.

Wild and Hammon’s cases have similarities. They just want to compete. Hammon took up an offer from the Russian National Team after not receiving an invite to try out for the U.S.

“This is basketball,” Hammon said in 2008. “This is not World War III or anything.”

Wild, who is on Facebook and Instagram but not Twitter, expects some backlash.

“Everybody’s got something to say,” he said. “People will talk shit. Other than that, everybody who wants to really look at it will most likely understand this guy was going to quit and wasn’t getting what he wanted.

“It’s not only about snowboarding. It’s also about continuing my relationship with Alena. Had I stopped snowboarding [and stayed in the U.S.], good luck with a long-distance relationship with Alena. That stuff never works.”

In Sochi, Wild could make history beyond being the first American to compete for Russia in a Winter Games.

No Russian man has ever won an Olympic snowboarding medal, a stat Wild isn’t dwelling on.

“All I want to do is win a lot of World Cups,” he said. “I can’t focus too much on something that happens every four years.”

But he also feels the kind of pressure foreign to him as an American racer.

“Here, people want you to win, they expect you to win,” Wild said. “You get paid to do it. It’s not just for you anymore. It’s also for the people that are paying for you man. They put a lot on you.”

He would like to pay them back. He could start by becoming fluent in Russian.

“I don’t want to have to piece my sentences together,” he said. “It’s tough.”

Last spring, Wild enrolled in a Moscow language class with a half-dozen other students where only Russian was allowed to be spoken for three hours at a time.

He couldn’t stick with it, though, turning his focus back to snowboarding in the summer.

A goal after the Olympics is to pick it up again.

“I don’t even think about me being American anymore,” Wild said. “I’m Russian. I might not speak Russian fluently, and I might not totally understand the culture, but I live there. I’m not some American guy who lives in America and wants to snowboard for Russia because it’s easier. If anything, I went the hard way.”

Here’s more on Wild from Russian media in an RT video report and a Russia Beyond The Headlines article.

U.S. curler gets epic Olympic sendoff from school kids

Neymar on Rio’s athletes village setbacks: ‘It’s not nice’

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 29:  Neymar of Brazil sings the national anthem prior to kickoff during the international friendly match between Brazil and Chile at the Emirates Stadium on March 29, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazilian soccer star Neymar says the problems at the athletes’ village could harm the preparations of some Olympic competitors at the Rio Games.

“If this is all true, we have to lament it. We had so much time to get everything ready, but some things didn’t work out,” he said as Brazil’s men’s team prepares for the Olympic tournament.

“I hope they fix all the problems,” he said. “It’s complicated for athletes to come from abroad and realize that their accommodation is not in good condition. You prepare three years of your life to be in the Olympics and then something like this ends up hurting you. It’s not nice. I hope they can fix everything and that everybody can be happy”

Brazil’s men’s team is preparing for the games at a training camp in the mountain city of Teresopolis on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.

In other news, Brazil’s starting goalkeeper injured his right elbow and could miss the team’s final warmup match ahead of the games.

Fernando Prass did not practice on Tuesday after complaining of pain in his elbow and it remains unclear whether he will be fit to play the friendly against Japan on Saturday. The 38-year-old Palmeiras player will be re-evaluated daily.

Prass was one of the players older than 23 selected for Brazil’s squad, under Olympic soccer rules.

Brazil’s opening game at the Olympics is against South Africa on Aug. 4 in Brasilia.

MORE: Belarus says athletes village unsanitary, but Australia set to move in

Film on African-American Olympians in 1936 Games set to release Aug. 5

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A documentary telling the story of 18 African-American Olympians who took part in the 1936 Berlin Games is set to be released Aug. 5, in conjunction with the 2016 Olympics Opening Ceremony in Rio.

“Olympic Pride, American Prejudice” highlights the black athletes, headlined by Jesse Owens, who competed in the face of Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler on the brink of World War II.

The independent film was written, directed and executive produced by Deborah Riley Draper, who was recently named one of 10 “Documakers to Watch” by Variety. The film is narrated by Grammy award winner and two-time Golden Globe nominee Blair Underwood, who also was an executive producer.

Draper and Underwood are hoping to share the stories of all the athletes, not just Owens. They recently had a screening in Brazil, and will show the documentary at the Monica Film Center in Los Angeles and Cinema Village in New York City before rolling it out across the U.S.

You can watch trailers for the film here and here.

From the film’s website:

“Olympic Pride, American Prejudice is a feature length documentary exploring the trials and triumphs of 18 African American Olympians in 1936. Set against the strained and turbulent atmosphere of a racially divided America, which was torn between boycotting Hitler’s Olympics or participating in the Third Reich’s grandest affair, the film follows 16 men and two women before, during and after their heroic turn at the Summer Olympic Games in Berlin. They represented a country that considered them second class citizens and competed in a country that rolled out the red carpet in spite of an undercurrent of Aryan superiority and anti-Semitism. They carried the weight of a race on their shoulders and did the unexpected with grace and dignity.

The athletes experienced things that they were not expecting—applause, warm welcomes, integrated Olympic villages and the respect of their competitors. They were world heroes yet returned home to a short-lived glory. This story is complicated. This story is triumphant but unheralded.”

MORE: Jesse Owens’ daughter cried watching ‘Race’ film ending