David Wise poses in the Olympic Park during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 19, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
David Wise achieved primetime television fame and had his name and photo on websites and newspapers across the United States, but he knows he’s going to remain anonymous to most Americans.
That’s just the way it is for even the world’s best freeskiers, including Wise, who won the gold medal in the debut of his event, halfpipe skiing, at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games in February.
So when he and his wife got the opportunity to attend an Oscar party after the recent Academy Awards presentations in Los Angeles — just one of many events that Wise has enjoyed in a busy schedule since returning home — he went prepared.
|David Wise (holding daughter Nayeli), Ellen DeGeneres and Alexandra Wise
There, in the midst of Matt Damon, Harrison Ford, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Garner and Jamie Foxx, Wise had something even better than a nametag.
“I wore my gold medal, just to kind of use it as an identifier,” said Wise, 23.
By the end of the night, he’d had a chance to meet with many people, thanks to his shiny accessory.
“Those guys live in a totally different world, so to them there’s a million stars in the room, but there’s not too many gold medalists,” he said. “So they were pretty excited. It was a fun experience, for sure.”
Wise said the night was “overwhelming,” but he won’t take credit for his medal-wearing strategy.
“A lot of people had said that to me,” he said. “They were like, ‘You could go to this and try to make friends, but you won’t make friends any faster than if you wear your gold medal.’”
It’s been a crazy few weeks for Wise, who usually prefers a quiet life with his wife Alexandra, and their 2-year-old daughter, Nayeli, at his home in Reno, Nev., where he can train and ski.
“I think that’s kind of the protocol when you win a gold medal,” he said, laughing. “You stay busy for a little while.”
|Wise, wife Alexandra and daughter Nayeli pose with Mickey Mouse at Disneyland.
When he flew home from Sochi, he landed in Los Angeles and immediately was a guest on Ellen DeGeneres’ TV show. He also attended a Lakers game and took his family to Disneyland before flying back to Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
There, he was greeted by about 500 sign-holding, flag-waving, cheering fans along with a high school band.
“It was pretty wild,” said Wise. “First of all, right off the plane, I was with my family and the first two people that meet us are the governor of Nevada and the mayor of Reno, and so it was just a totally unreal experience.”
Wise was invited up onto a stage and welcomed home by the governor and mayor, took pictures and signed autographs with fans and told that the state of Nevada had declared a David Wise Day. And because the gambling town of Reno is a 24-hour town that never closes, he was given a “ski to the city” rather than a key to the city.
The next day, there was a party for Wise, his family, friends and longtime supporters at the Peppermill hotel and casino in Reno, with about 400 in attendance.
“It gave everybody a kind of chance to join in celebrating the whole thing,” he said.
Ever since he’s come home, the reception has been like nothing he’s ever experienced.
|Wise receives the "ski to the city" in Reno, Nev.
“Everywhere I go in Reno now, too, everybody sees me and is like, ‘Oh, man, thanks for representing us so well,’” said Wise, who said the city also is planning to hold a parade for its Olympians. “‘We’re so excited for you, congratulations.’ It’s a whole new thing.”
The Olympic Games, he discovered, is a different athletic and cultural experience than he’d ever been a part of. He’s had plenty of victories before, winning three Winter X Games gold medals and the 2013 world championship in his event. But he’d never received the attention he did with his victory in Sochi.
“I’ve been kind of accepted as a hero everywhere I go, which is funny from my profession, because it’s not a new thing,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve had a lot of success, but the Olympics … Your country really feels like you’re representing them when you’re out there. So it’s kind of cool to have that side of the whole experience, to be representing Team USA and having people so excited about what I’m doing. So much love from the U.S. fans.”
Aside from his performance, Wise attracted some attention during the Games for a story on the NBC Olympics website headlined, “David Wise’s alternative lifestyle leads to Olympic gold.”
Some in the media took offense to Wise’s lifestyle being labeled “alternative” because he’s married, devoted to his wife and daughter, is religious and prefers time at home to partying. That stability is one of the things that Wise credits for maintaining a strong mental makeup. Others in the media defended the story and headline by pointing out that alternative means different — and in the world of freeskiers, Wise is different.
Wise laughed when asked about it.
|Wise and his family arrive at the airport in Reno, Nev.
“Yeah, I heard plenty about that,” he said. “I think my lifestyle definitely stands out, especially because freeskiing is a young sport. My fellow team Americans were all teenagers, 17, 18 and 19. I’m only 23, but I’m kind of an old 23. I’m married, I have a little girl, so yeah, I definitely have a different lifestyle.
“But I think what people also noticed is, this guy just does it his way. I was never one to sort of let the industry dictate who I should be. OK, skiing’s what I love to do, but I’m going to be who I am regardless of what skiing wants me to do.”
Part of what makes Wise successful is his approach. It’s just weeks after Sochi and he’s already pondering the Winter Games in South Korea in 2018. He calls himself a “strategist.”
“I’m always thinking of things to do and where I can take the sport next,” he said. “My coach and I already had a couple of conversations like, ‘Oh, man, what do you think the winning run’s going to be the next time around, and how can we be one step ahead of the game?’
“I’m definitely thinking about it.”
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.