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

Great Britain gets first win at men’s ice hockey worlds in 57 years

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Lord Stanley would be proud. Great Britain’s men’s ice hockey team pulled off its biggest win in more than a half-century on Monday.

Great Britain beat France 4-3 in overtime at the world championship in Slovakia, in its last game of the tournament, to avoid relegation and remain in the top division of worlds in 2020 with the likes of the U.S., Canada and Russia.

France, whose streak of 12 straight top-level world championship appearances ends, had led 3-0 in the second period.

“We just don’t know when we are beaten,” golden-goal scorer Ben Davies said, according to Ice Hockey U.K. “This just underlines what GB is all about.”

It marked the Brits’ first win at a top-level worlds or Olympics since 1962. Great Britain last qualified for an Olympics in 1948. Its only top-level world championship appearance since 1962 was in 1994, when it lost all five games by a combined 44-7.

At these worlds, Great Britain was outscored 38-5 in its first six games, all losses. It came into the 16-nation event as the lowest-ranked team at No. 22 in the world.

“No one knows anything about U.K. hockey, and the first couple of days here people were laughing at us,” defenseman Ben O’Connor said, according to The New York Times, which reported that fans dressed as Queen Elizabeth II, Mary Poppins, Beefeaters, cricket bats and the Olympic ski jumper Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards to the Brits’ 6-3 loss to the U.S. last Wednesday.

(h/t @OlympicStatman)

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Caster Semenya enters Pre Classic in new event after testosterone ruling

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Caster Semenya is entered in the Pre Classic on June 30 to run the women’s 3000m, an event that does not fall under the IAAF’s new testosterone limits.

It’s the first announced meet for Semenya since the new IAAF rule capping testosterone in women’s events between the 400m and the mile went into effect. The Court of Arbitration for Sport denied her appeal and upheld the rule on May 1.

Semenya, the two-time Olympic 800m champion, has raced almost exclusively the 400m, 800m and 1500m up until this season.

She won an 800m on May 3 in the last top-level meet before the testosterone cap went into effect for those distances.

At that May 3 meet in Doha, Semenya reportedly said “hell no” when asked if she would take testosterone-suppressing measures to stay eligible for the 400m, 800m or 1500m at the world championships this fall.

Semenya also said she would keep competing but would not race the 5000m, the shortest flat event on the Olympic program that she could move up to without a testosterone cap, according to those same reports.

The flat 3000m is not on the Olympic program (though the 3000m steeplechase is).

South Africa’s track and field federation has indicated it will appeal the CAS ruling.

“I keep training. I keep running,” Semenya said May 3. “Doesn’t matter if something comes in front of me, like I said. I always find a way.”

The Pre Classic women’s 3000m also includes distance titans Almaz Ayana (Olympic 10,000m champion who last raced in 2017), Hellen Obiri (world 5000m champion), Genzebe Dibaba (1500m world-record holder) and Sifan Hassan (world bronze medalist at 1500m and 5000m).

The Pre Classic will be held at Stanford, Calif., this year due to construction at Oregon’s Hayward Field ahead of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials.

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