Russia Olympic ban threatens Steamboat snowboarder Vic Wild
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Russian-American gold medal snowboarder Vic Wild, who trained in Steamboat Springs, expressed frustration and doubts in an interview with a Latvian news outlet following the International Olympic Committee’s decision to ban Russia from competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics, set for February in PyeongChang, South Korea, after allegations of systematic, state-sponsored doping to support Russian athletes at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“I knew that this could happen and was ready for such a decision,” Wild said in an interview with Alexandra Vladimirova of the online news outlet Meduza.
The extensive interview, translated from Russian to English, touched on Wild’s thoughts on the ban, on Russian doping and on his own relationship with Russia and the United States.
“Of course, I’m very upset. It seems to me that the most important thing in this whole story is that there is not much evidence of violations,” he said in the interview. “I’m not saying there was nothing. Maybe there was something, nobody really knows. But I did not see any strong evidence that the athletes were aware of the existence of the doping system in the country and participated in it.”
Wild grew up in White Salmon, Washington, then trained for Alpine snowboarding in Steamboat Springs until the United States Ski and Snowboard Association pulled funding for alpine snowboarding athletes.
Lacking any financial support from the United States to continue in his sport, Wild eventually left the country and became a Russian citizen, the native country of his wife, fellow rider Alena Zavarzina. He joined the Russian snowboarding team ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, then shined on his new “home” snow over two incredible days. He won both the parallel giant slalom and parallel slalom events.
The fairy tale story took a twist this week, however, when the IOC banned the Russian team from the 2018 Games for an extensive doping scheme that was implemented in the Sochi Olympics.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Wild won’t be able to compete. Individual Russian athletes not connected to doping allegations will be invited to compete in PyeongChang under the neutral Olympic banner rather than the Russian flag.
Russia won the medal count in 2014, winning 33 medals, 13 of them gold. It was a crowning achievement for the host country, more than double the number of medals won in 2010 (15) and the Russia’s first finish atop the standings since 1988 when it competed with the Soviet Union.
Russian medal counts have a history proven less than permanent, however. The country has been stripped of 49 medals in summer and winter Olympics since 2002. That’s including 17 in the Winter Olympics and 11 in Sochi.
Neither Wild nor Zavarzina, a 2014 Olympic bronze medalist, have been connected to any of the allegations, and Wild vigorously rejected that they may be.
“All that we showed in Sochi, this is the result of conscientious work,” he said. “We won our medals absolutely honestly. When I remember those days, I feel only pride. If anyone has any questions about how I won the Olympics, I’ll tell you. At the moment when I was driving down the slope, I was supported by 140 million Russians. I knew this, and it motivated me.”
The loophole allowed by the IOC to compete under a neutral flag means the couple would likely get the opportunity to compete in PyeongChang if they want it.
That “if they want it” may be a question, however.
“I don’t know yet,” Wild said to Meduza. “I will need to talk with other athletes who have already performed under a neutral flag. This isn’t what I’d like. If I saw that Russia really deserved it, I might have a different opinion, but I still don’t want to believe that so many people have been involved in the (doping) system. I did not see anything like this in Sochi.”
Wild didn’t entirely dismiss the allegations.
“Yes, okay, so be it, maybe there was something in Sochi,” he said. “I don’t speak Russian well … I didn’t speak at all in Sochi, so it’s hard for me to say what was (happening) and what wasn’t. One thing I can say: my wife never heard of anything, did not tell me anything. … I can not speak for everyone. If we have not seen — it does not mean that there was nothing.”
Wild’s stayed fast in the years since his gold medals. He was second in the PGS World Cup season standings in 2015, then sixth in 2016 and 10th last year. He’s been top-10 in all four World Championship races since 2014, as well.
He said there have been no efforts on his part and no overtures from the United States for a return to his native country. Rather, he said he’s grown more and more comfortable in his new nation, depite the new complications in his quest to return to the Olympics.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to America,” he said, leaving an exception for vacations. “I don’t identify with America as before. My affairs, my life, are now connected with Europe and with Moscow.
“I’m proud to be in favor of Russia, perhaps even more than four years ago.”
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9.