Difficult day leaves Reiter’s emotions mixed
February 22, 2014
Krasnaya Polyana, Russia — It wasn't so much that Justin Reiter envisioned gold and glory.
It was just that Reiter, based in Steamboat Springs and the only U.S. athlete to compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics' Alpine snowboarding events, did not envision this.
Reiter stood 100 yards outside the the finish zone for the snowboarding parallel slalom event Saturday at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
He waited behind a barrier, ready with some water, some Powerade and some advice for close friend and former teammate Vic Wild, the Alpine snowboarder who Saturday capped one of the best weeks ever for an Olympic snowboarder by winning his second gold medal.
That was great, said Reiter, who helped coach Wild through Thursday's parallel giant slalom and Saturday's Olympic snowboarding finale.
"I couldn't be more proud," he said.
Still, it wasn't what Reiter had in mind after logging more than a decade chasing the dream of making the Olympic team.
Reiter's Olympics — as an athlete, anyway — came to a frustrating conclusion early Saturday during his first runs in the day's event. He had failed to adapt to icy course conditions during the first Alpine snowboarding event Thursday, and Saturday he felt the crunch to make the 16-man bracketed finals.
It cost him.
He cut inside one of the gate pylons and literally before he knew it, his Olympics were over. He rode back to the top of the course to start another run only to be informed he had been disqualified.
"I knew it would be tight and I went pretty aggressive," Reiter said. "I just cut too far inside one of the stubbys.
"I've done this a million times, a million different ways. To disqualify, that's pretty silly. I haven't disqualified in more than five years."
He brightened when Wild won a dual, happily greeting his friend on the edge of the course before Wild rode back up to continue the competition.
But Reiter didn't come here to coach, and for as sweet as Wild's success was for Reiter, it stung at the same time.
2 different paths
Wild and Reiter competed together in the United States, each members of a small but elite team of Steamboat Springs-based Alpine snowboarders coached by Thedo Remmelink.
When the United States Ski Association eliminated the funding for a U.S. Team, the Steamboat squad became a refuge, the defacto United States team.
It wasn't enough for Wild, who, after marrying his Russian girlfriend, opted to become a Russian citizen and join the Russian snowboard team.
Wild was fully funded by his new country and during two days on the Sochi slopes, he showed exactly what he could do.
"I had to go my way," Reiter said. "I had to go the way I could to try and get here the best I could. With what I had, I don't think anyone could have done better."
Wild's become an instant celebrity, at least among the legions of Russians following the Olympics.
The course crew for Saturday's event painted with blue dye the shape of a heart. They wrote "Vic" underneath.
That may not have been enough as several yards further down, "VIC" was spelled out again, this time in letters large enough for a cosmonaut.
The Russian volunteers maintaining the track grew excited whenever Wild came down the course. They ran from their positions to overlooks so they could see the finish, forgetting their course raking duties as their eyes peaked through nervous hands then flew into the air every time their man won a dual.
Russians chattered about Wild on their cellphones as they left the venue,"Vic! Victor Wild!"
Fans without tickets peaked through a fence, celebrating themselves as Wild won.
He spread his arms wide when he crossed the finish line to secure his second gold, accepting the love being hurled his way.
"Everyone wants to say on certain days things just come together," Reiter said. "No. Vic pieced this together. Nothing fell into his lap. He constructed this, and I respect him so much for doing it."
It was one thing when Reiter watched Thursday. The remaining race still was a chance at redemption.
Watching Saturday was something different, however, and the United States' only Olympic Alpine snowboarder struggled to come to terms with it.
"Seeing the opportunity Vic created for himself, I couldn't be more proud," Reiter said. "At the same time, I'm envious."
The Olympics were a chance Reiter had craved. He had been chasing the team for three Olympiads, just missing out in 2006 and 2010.
He answered his frustrations with retirement after the 2010 season, but the Olympics drew him back, a siren song he couldn't ignore.
This time, he had the results. He earned silver in the World Snowboard Championships a year ago, helping assure he wouldn't be left at home.
Reiter was third in his final World Cup start leading up to the Olympics.
Not only could he make the team, he could challenge for a medal.
He had survived the funding headaches, thanks in part to a stint living out of his truck last summer. He had found supporters in Steamboat, in the United States and around the world, and he traveled to Sochi with a full heart and a chance at vindication, for himself and his single-minded quest to make the Olympics, and his sport, shorted by American winter sports officials.
Indeed, the cries for funding for the U.S. team were vindicated, by a Russian.
He won't say what's next, unsure whether or not he has four more years in him, or even one more month. He still was dealing with the heartbreak of the present.
He said in December, when his spot in Sochi still was in question, that making the team would fulfill his dreams.
In December, he didn't know how much the Olympics could hurt, however.
On Saturday, with his friend on the podium and his Olympic dream over, Reiter tried to recall the attitude he'd possessed as an aspiring Olympian, not the one he had as a disappointed Olympian.
"I can appreciate being here," he said. "I'm very thankful to be here, to represent my country and to have this opportunity. I know there are a million kids out there who would love this, and I can't be a brat just because I didn't get what I wanted in terms of my results."
He paused, considering his sentiment before going on.
As the final stages of his last Olympic event unfolded nearby, Reiter continued the process of coming to terms with the idea that despite living his dream, some part of him was hoping to wake up from one.
"It will take a little time to fully appreciate those words," he said. "If I wasn't upset, I wouldn't be a racer."