Justin Reiter rebounds after it went ‘horribly wrong’ in Sochi

Justin Reiter
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Justin Reiter, a U.S. snowboarder who loosely compared his lone-wolf Sochi Olympic experience to the film “Into the Wild,” felt quite different last Saturday night.

“Validated,” he said.

Reiter, 34, captured his first World Cup victory under the lights in Moscow and the first for any U.S. rider in his discipline in more than a decade.

Reiter’s story was well told last season, before and during the Sochi Olympics. He once lived out of his 2012 Toyota Tundra and then became the only 2014 U.S. Olympian in Alpine snowboarding. No teammates.

Younger snowboarders in the more visible disciplines mistook him for a coach. He walked into the Opening Ceremony alone.

“Happiness is better when shared,” Reiter said in a phone interview this week, paraphrasing “Into the Wild” but emphasizing his Olympic experience was by no means as traumatic as Christopher McCandless‘ venture into the Alaskan wilderness.

Alpine snowboarding, where riders race on a gated course, similar to but shorter than Alpine skiing, was the first snowboarding discipline to debut at the Winter Olympics in 1998.

The first Olympic halfpipe competition was held later in those Nagano Games. While halfpipe ascended in the 2000s, Alpine faded as new, more popular events of snowboard cross and slopestyle joined the Olympics in 2006 and 2014.

In Sochi, Reiter’s performance in his two events “went horribly wrong.”

He failed to advance out of a qualifying round in the parallel giant slalom, carving the Rosa Khutor course 24th-fastest when he needed to be in the top 16.

Three days later, he unknowingly missed a gate in his first parallel slalom qualifying run and was notified of his disqualification while in the start area for his second run.

“I always felt like I could earn an Olympic medal, I felt like it was there,” said Reiter, a 2013 World Championships silver medalist who made the podium in the World Cup event preceding Sochi. “And, shit, it didn’t.

“It was the worst two competitions I had in almost my entire career.”

Reiter considered quitting, but he previously, briefly, retired after failing to make the 2010 Olympic team. He didn’t want to make the same mistake twice of leaving snowboarding with a sour taste.

He returned this season with a new home (a rented room, though he still owns the Tundra, his “adventure mobile”), a U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association stipend (so he didn’t have to fundraise or work a side job) and a new outlook.

He developed a mantra for 2014-15 — best season ever.

“That doesn’t mean I have to ride the best,” Reiter said. “It just means that I’m taking the opportunity to see museums I haven’t seen or go to have lunch with one of my friends from France and take time to meet different people.”

Happiness is better when shared. Reiter’s two World Cup podiums this season matched his previous combined total from a career dating to 2003.

He ranks third overall in the World Cup standings, two spots ahead of friend Vic Wild, who was frustrated in 2011 with a lack of support from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, married a Russian and competed as a Russian at the Olympics, sweeping the Alpine snowboarding golds.

In Moscow on Saturday, Reiter defeated Austrian Benjamin Karl in the final. Karl has won medals at the last two Olympics and the last four World Championships.

It was an odd race, only about 15 seconds long, not half the length of the typical Olympic Alpine course.

“Crossing that [finish] line, it felt like, yeah, I validated myself,” Reiter said. “There you go, Justin, I can do this.”

And he didn’t celebrate alone.

“When I won, everyone else knew how important it was,” Reiter said, according to the Park (City, Utah) Record, “I’m a child of the entire tour.”

Reiter has one more World Cup competition left Saturday and then will ponder his future again in the spring and summer break. He’s unsure about sticking with it through the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics.

“It’s really hard to say,” he said. “I don’t think people understand how much sacrifice it takes for four years. If I was raking in the dough, had sponsors out the wazoo and was able to support myself and put away for a future, then maybe. Right now, I make an incredible life, but I don’t necessarily make a living, and that makes it hard to commit to four years.”

Mario Matt, Olympic slalom champion, retires

Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

Elena Fanchini
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Italian skier Elena Fanchini, whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in December 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back, and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won a silver medal in downhill at the 2005 World Championships and also won two World Cup races in her career — both in downhill.

She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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