Earlier today, snowboarder Vic Wild narrowly took first place in parallel slalom, picking up his second gold medal of the Sochi Winter Olympics and adding onto Russia's medal lead. Wild was born in White Salmon, Washingt— wait, what?
Is... that his real name?
If only! Vic Wild was actually born Victor Ivan, but since he's a snowboarder it's really more appropriate if his legal last name is "Wild."
If he was born in Washington, how did he end up in Russia?
The short version of the story is that he married his longtime girlfriend and fellow snowboarder Alena Zavarzina (who won a bronze medal today), which secured him Russian citizenship and allowed him to compete for the country in Sochi.
Okay, why did he end up in Russia?
Wild used to snowboard for America, but he never quite clicked with the United States Ski and Snowboard Association. Wild is alpine snowboarder, which basically means that he snows down mountains and around flags at really high speeds. But alpine snowboarding involves no halfpipes or jumps or 720s, so it lags behind X Games-style events in popularity and funding, even from a national organization.
So he was just really frustrated with the system?
Exactly. Wild says that when he was competing with the Americans, he lacked things like dedicated coaching and even travel arrangements. For instance, the USSA had a budget of $24.1 million in 2012, but used to spend less than $150,000 on alpine snowboarding.
Well, America doesn't have an alpine snowboarding program anymore: it was dissolved in 2010 after the winter Olympics in Vancouver. So in 2011, faced with retiring from snowboarding or figuring out another way to compete internationally, Wild moved to Russia with his wife.
...And Russia just accepted him onto its Olympic team?
More or less. Russia has poured millions of dollars into its sports programs in order to have a good showing as host country, but Wild has also steadily improved: he won bronze at the 2013 World Championships and won a World Cup event a few weeks before Sochi.
Well, that sucks for us.
Yep! But Wild, as snowboarders often are, seems pretty chill about the whole thing now. "It has nothing to do with the United States itself. It only has something to do with the nonprofit organization, the USSA. They didn't give me what I needed," he said after the race today. "That's cool. I'm stoked for them. They've done a great job at these Olympics. They're amazing. They do a great job. But not everybody can be happy. I had to make my decision. And I'm very happy that I did that."
Just for the record, what's the medal count after Wild won his second gold today?
Russia is in the overall medal lead with 29 medals. In the second is the United States, who is behind by, well, uhhh, two medals.
[image via Getty]