KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Vic Wild saw the path good friend Justin Reiter was forced to take to keep his alpine snowboarding career and decided it wasn't for him.
Hemmed in by a lack of funding from the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association (USSA), Reiter found himself courting sponsors and even living out of his truck to make ends meet. That wasn't going to work for Wild.
"I'm a lot different than Justin," Wild said. "He's incredibly good at getting what he needs. If he needs to self-promote, he can. People really like Justin. He's a great person to talk to. I don't have that ability so I knew that for me there was no way I was going to get the funds I needed to snowboard."
Wild discovered that support — not to mention a wife — in Russia. He married Alena Zavarzina in 2011 and was welcomed by a growing Russian snowboard team with open arms. The union led to gold earlier this week when the 27-year-old from White Salmon, Wash., won parallel giant slalom moments after his wife captured bronze in the same event.
The couple will try to add to their haul on Saturday when parallel slalom — a shorter, tighter course than PGS — makes its Olympic debut.
It will also be a chance for Wild and Zavarzina to add to their storybook haul and give Reiter one last chance to find the kind of success that could help his program find some momentum in a country where the snowboarding stars are the ones who flip and twist through the air, not the ones who zip down the hill in the sport's answer to alpine skiing.
The 33-year-old Reiter considers himself a "stray dog" as the lone American representative in an event with a heavy European influence.
"Yeah I'm part of Team USA but I feel like I'm on my own," he said.
Wild does not, and Reiter totally gets the unorthodox step Wild took to reach the top.
"He's one of my best friends," Reiter said. "The only difference is he has a complete team supporting him as well as a full training program. I'm super proud of him for what he's done. I couldn't be prouder of him."
Doubling up for Wild is a legitimate possibility. He won a parallel slalom event in Austria a month ago and gives his new country a large amount of the credit for helping him deliver on the talent he knew was lurking inside if he could just get himself into the right situation.
Asked if his success serves as a message to the USSA that American alpine snowboarders can reach the podium consistently if more money is pumped into the operation and Wild shrugged his shoulders.
"The USOC does a great job," Wild said. "The USSA does a great job with what they want to do. Not everyone can be happy all the time. I don't hold a grudge. I'm here now doing what I want to do."
Namely, win. If he had stayed in the U.S., Wild figures he would have "a mediocre job doing something mediocre. That's now who I wanted to be."
Now he's an Olympic champion while his friend tries to soldier on wondering how much longer he can keep going.
"It absolutely puts a lot of pressure on me being the sole (USA) athlete here," Reiter said. "I want to represent the sport really well, I want to do the best that I can and I want to inspire younger riders. It's tough being the only one out here."
A medal on Saturday and Reiter may finally find some company.