Expat Vic Wild, wife delighted by rare medal double

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KRASNAYA, POLYANA, Russia — Stunned to learn this was only the second time in Winter Olympic history that a husband and wife had earned a medal in the same event, the first reaction: “Is that true?”

Disbelief came over the face of Alena Zavarzina of Russia and she was instantly at a loss of words standing next to her husband, double-taking at the scene around her to ensure it was in fact reality.

Vic Wild, an American-born snowboarder hailing from the state of Washington but now competing alongside Zavarzina for a different red, white and blue, had a more comical response upon learning the entirety of the historical news: “It was figure skating? That’s cheating,” he laughed.

RELATED: Husband/wife duo win medals in parallel giant slalom

Wild and Zavarzina do everything together.

“We do too much together,” joked Wild.

They train, travel and compete together and it is clear that they have more than just chemistry; they have a little bit of magic.

Neither athlete was necessarily expected to podium in Wednesday’s snowboarding parallel giant slalom (PGS) event. Zavarzina placed 17th back at the Vancouver Olympics and Wild had a record that was less than favorable coming into the Sochi Games.

Wild did however post a top-five finish at a World Cup PGS event in January, boosting his resume a bit leading into the Games. Meanwhile, Zavarzina broke her arm at an event that same month and required surgery. In her first event back, she placed only 22nd.

Never again will the duo fly under the radar.

VIDEO: How did Wild and Zavarvina pull it off?

Zavarzina, still competing with a brace on her left arm, rode with a confidence and familiarity with her board that she has acquired throughout her entire life. As a child, she began to snowboard because her mother’s friend had set up a snowboard school, and despite wanting to ski, she made the decision to become the town’s “little snowboard girl” and began to hone her skills. On Wednesday that little snowboard girl won a bronze medal.

Wild literally stunned all with his riding in the event. Round after round he proved he was the one to beat, only falling behind in a single run, the first of his final, where he managed to overcome a half-second deficit to earn the first medal for Russia in PGS — and a gold at that.

Oddly enough, that gold could have just as easily been the first for Wild’s native-born country of the United States had he found more support a few years back.

RELATED: Snowboarder Vic Wild leaves U.S. to compete as Russian

For three years Wild rode for the U.S. team, but was forced to cut ties with the team because in his words, “their focus was in other areas.”

When it began to look like his professional snowboarding stint was coming to a close, Zavarzina offered another option.

“I didn’t want him to quit. I wanted him to keep chasing his dream,” said the emotional Zavarzina, still taking in the moment.

The two were married, allowing Wild the opportunity to train and ride for the Russian snowboard team. He even felt at home, mentioning that because he looks Russian, people think he is – until he speaks.

Wild harvested no hard feelings whatsoever towards his native country, saying the problem he ran into, lack of funding and support, “had nothing to do with the United States, it had something to do with a nonprofit organization.”

“We’ve all got to get what we need,” said the relaxed Wild.

As the Games drew near, Wild received an outpouring of support from his friends back home across Washington.

“It made me feel so comfortable knowing all my friends actually cared, I didn’t know they cared. It kind of makes you realize you had already done something special by being here. I had already won today before I had even started. That probably gave me the ability to relax and ride well.”

In the end it wasn’t a medal won for his home country, but it was indeed won in part by the support of it.

Ashley Wagner tops Skate America short program

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HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. (AP) — Ashley Wagner topped the Skate America short program Friday night with 69.50 points, building on her second-place finish from last season’s world championships.

Japan’s Mai Mihara, making her Grand Prix Series debut at 17, was second at 65.75, and U.S. champion Gracie Gold third at 64.87.

The free skate will determine the champion Saturday at Sears Centre Arena (live on NBC and the NBC Sports app at 4:30 p.m. ET). Full results are here.

Wagner performed with a fierce and determined style, delivering a technically solid and entertaining program to “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurhythmics.

“I capitalized on the momentum (from worlds) going into the summer,” said Wagner, the 2012 Skate America winner. “It inspired me to train even harder than I had been because it showed me that my training got me onto that podium. It motivated me and made it a realistic goal to get onto that Olympic podium, and I can almost taste it. It’s a totally new season. I’m hopefully a different athlete from that Worlds event and I think it’s just about building on that from here on out.”

Mihara fell during her warmup, which she said relaxed her during her performance.

“I think for my first Grand Prix event, I did a good job,” she said.

Gold, coming off a disappointing fourth-place finish in the world championships, fell on her triple flip, but otherwise was solid in her performance to a tango.

“I had a hiccup on the triple flip, but I went after everything,” Gold said. “I just need to keep working on the program and just keep getting it out there.”

Gold said the months after the world championships were difficult and affected her training.

“It was a pretty hard summer,” she said. “I had trouble getting going and getting my feet under me for some reason. I felt I had let myself down. No one else felt the intense shame that I felt, but it was just so internal that I had trouble getting back out there. But as soon as I got the momentum going, I’ve been feeling excellent.”

Three-time World champion Mao Asada of Japan, hampered by a knee injury, was fifth.

In pairs, Russia’s Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov took a commanding lead program with a score of 75.24. Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, who missed last season with a knee injury to Denney, were second at 67.29, and Canadians Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau followed at 66.49.

Tarasova and Morozov, fifth at the world championships, received high marks on their opening triple twist as well as their lifts, spins and footwork.

“Today we have a short program we did well,” Morozov said. “We have a personal best and were glad to have this moment.”

MORE: Scott Hamilton diagnosed with brain tumor for third time

Scott Hamilton diagnosed with brain tumor for third time

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 03:  Former figure skater and Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton onstage during A Capitol Fourth - Rehearsals at U.S. Capitol, West Lawn, on July 3, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Capital Concerts)
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Olympic figure skating champion Scott Hamilton said he was diagnosed with a benign pituitary brain tumor for a third time.

Hamilton, who took gold in Sarajevo in 1984, underwent chemotherapy to treat testicular cancer in 1997 and was twice previously diagnosed with brain tumors and had surgery, in 2004 and 2010.

“I didn’t have any symptoms, I just went in for my normal check-up, and they found the beginnings of the brain tumor coming back,” the 58-year-old Hamilton said. “I have a unique hobby of collecting life-threatening illness. … It’s six years later, and it decided that it wanted an encore.”

From People magazine:

Hamilton learned of the tumor at a routine check-up and is currently exploring all his treatment options before symptoms begin presenting.

“I’ll tell anybody that will listen: If you’re ever facing anything, get as many diagnoses as you possibly can,” he says. “The more you truly understand what you’re up against, the better decision you’re going to make.”

Hamilton was in New York on Friday to promote U.S. Figure Skating’s “Get Up” campaign.

“It’s all about shrugging it off, whatever’s going on, whether it be bullying at school, whether it be a setback in health, you just get up,” Hamilton said. “Not only to bring the young people that love skating together, but to bring the broader population into the fold.”

Hamilton said that surviving cancer was the moment in his life that he most associated with the “Get Up” campaign.

“Chemotherapy for months was devastating, but it’s endurable,” Hamilton said. “I don’t want to scare anybody from being treated for cancer, because I’m here, 20 years later, but the surgery afterwards was 38 staples, and I’m a little person. Getting up, getting back on the ice and performing again, quickly, was kind of my ‘Get Up’ moment.”

MORE: 2016-17 figure skating season broadcast schedule