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Vic Wild, who switched from U.S. to Russia and won Olympic gold, readies for last ride

Vic Wild

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 29, 2018: US-born Russian snowboarder Victor Ivan Wild (Vic Wild) during a meeting with the minister of sport of Russia. Vladimir Gerdo/TASS (Photo by Vladimir GerdoTASS via Getty Images)

Vladimir Gerdo/TASS

Vic Wild, the snowboarder who switched from the U.S. to Russia and won two Olympic gold medals in 2014, is preparing for the likely final season of his career. He’s not one to make a big deal about retirement, though.

A Russian TV report last week stated based off an interview that Wild will race for the last time this winter.

“Probably after the Olympics, we’ll see,” he said by phone when asked about it. “If I [qualify for and] go to the Olympics, maybe I finish the season, maybe not. I’ll feel it out.

“Probably should have retired a long time ago. But I’m going to stop now.”

Wild, 35, has one World Cup podium in the last five years and is trying to cling to fourth place on the Russian depth chart in parallel giant slalom, where a maximum of four riders per country can go to the Olympics.

“For me to be able to snowboard, it’s just a big sacrifice,” he said. “I can’t really do anything else because it just takes up so much time. And I’ve done everything I needed to do.”

He authored one of the fascinating athlete stories of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

The native of White Salmon, Washington, sought to leave the U.S. program because of a lack of funding and overall support paid out to the Alpine team, the least-publicized (and the U.S.’ least successful) discipline in snowboarding after halfpipe, slopestyle and snowboard cross.

So he rode for Russia starting in 2012, gaining eligibility after marrying Russian snowboarder Alena Zavarzina. Then something happened that stunned Wild -- he swept both the parallel slalom and the parallel giant slalom events at his first Olympics after ranking ninth in the world the previous season.

“I would have retired after the Olympics in Sochi had I not won,” he said Friday. “For sure it was the easier money to keep snowboarding. And I didn’t really know how else to earn money back then. And also, I felt like I kind of was obligated to keep going for the [Russian] snowboard federation, for a lot of people that invested a lot of time in me to come to Russia.”

Wild was one of two Russians to win multiple individual golds in Sochi. The other was also a foreign-born athlete, former South Korea short track speed skater Viktor Ahn. When Wild met Vladimir Putin after the Games, Putin spoke to him in English.

Now, Wild is the last active individual gold medalist for Russia from those Winter Games who wasn’t stripped of a medal (temporarily or permanently) as part of the nation’s doping scheme.

Wild believes that some Russians were cheating in Sochi, but not to the extent that whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov said happened. Wild was not implicated, but said some tried to lump him into the tainted group anyway.

“You can’t accidentally take drugs,” he said. “You’ve got to know you’re doing it. This is just silly.”

Wild was stressed to not know whether he was going to be on the list of Russians invited to compete at the 2018 Olympics until one week before the Opening Ceremony. He made it to South Korea, placing 10th in the parallel giant slalom (parallel slalom was removed from the program after its Sochi debut).

Wild knows he can still ride fast. He felt it in training, but it hasn’t recently translated to results. “Last year was kind of a disaster,” said Wild, who had a best World Cup finish of ninth and was 22nd at the world championships.

Wild was quoted by Russian media last week questioning vaccine requirements for young, healthy athletes, while supporting vaccinations for those who are older and immunocompromised. Asked about those comments, he said he will reluctantly adhere to the Olympic vaccination requirement to avoid a 21-day quarantine upon arrival in China, should he qualify for the Games.

“I support vaccines for whoever wants to have them,” he said. “I also support humans right to choice.”

Once he’s done snowboarding competitively, Wild wants to free ride and “make it in Moscow” with a snowboard gear business he runs with two friends. After that, he would consider spending more time in the U.S.

“I’ve been in the game a long time,” said Wild, who debuted on the World Cup in 2004. “There’s a bit more to life.”

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