David Wise's gold-medal run in Olympics is a marathon
SOCHI, Russia — David Wise already knows the question he'll face when he returns home, and he can deliver it in a perfect toddler voice.
The freeskier's 2-year-old daughter Nayeli will likely ask of his Olympic medal what she did of his most recent X Games gold, "Oooh, Daddy, new necklace. Is that for me?"
And even though Wise's gold medal that he won here in his sport's Olympic debut in the halfpipe would likely tip his daughter over, he'd say, yes, of course, it always was for you.
"I think that she's gonna be pretty excited and want to wear it all the time," he says as he headed to the medals plaza on Wednesday night to receive it.
That the young father puts his focus on family before skiing makes him a unique spokesman for his sport. It was his daughter half a world away who was in his thoughts throughout the chaotic day. Wise allowed USA TODAY Sports to accompany him in the immediate aftermath of his gold medal win.
The latest star of these Games, Wise, 23, went through the wringer that every medalist goes through, and one that is especially demanding for those who win gold. His obligations began immediately after his first-run score of 92 led him to victory on a snowy, slushy night at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
In the day following his win, Wise had no less than 12 hours committed to media, sponsors, NBC and the U.S. Olympic Committee, no more than 15 minutes to eat a meal and no shortage of repeat questions.
"It's a whirlwind," Wise says as it is just getting started.
Less than two hours after his last run, Wise is in a van headed toward the Olympic Park for the beginning of his media tour. During the 50-minute drive, Wise checks his phone to see about 100 text messages.
He reflects on a podium shared with Canada's Mike Riddle and France's Kevin Rolland, who took silver and bronze, respectively. If it couldn't be another American on the podium, he's glad it was those two, guys like him who are focused on their skiing and not tied up in the status of being a pro athlete. That has helped him become one of the best halfpipe skiers in the world, with the past three X Games gold medals to his name.
By the time he reaches the International Broadcast Center, the realization of all that happened still had not sunk in. He expects that will come when he's interviewed by Bob Costas for a taped piece for the NBC broadcast.
In 90 minutes during the pre-dawn hours, Wise is interviewed by NBC radio and for the company's website, takes part in a social media session and sits down with Costas.
"I nailed that one," he says, on Wednesday morning.
With just three hours sleep, the Reno native starts his day with a breakfast put on by his sponsor Visa. Afterward, a surprise proves to be the highlight of the day.
In a commercial congratulating Wise, Morgan Freeman narrates the story of Wise's life, something the skier jokes he can check off his bucket list, with pictures from his childhood and video of him skiing with Nayeli.
Wise's wife, parents and sister all cry, and the skier's eyes well with tears. He maintains that he can keep his street cred because none fell, but it is clear he is moved.
"I don't think it gets any better than that," he says.
In the span of 30 minutes, Visa crams in all it can for the gold medalist. With poles way too big to ever ski with, Wise jumps around on the patio for a Vine video.
Wise sees a mosaic of a photo of him after his winning run, one created with the avatars of those who had congratulated him. He tapes a thank you video for his fans, and one for a particular fan – 86-year-old Sally Pepper, who was one of the first to comment on Facebook.
As he signs, it's pointed out to him that he should carry a gold Sharpie from now on.
Before departing the hotel, Wise swaps his Nike sweatpants for jeans borrowed from his manager.
"I didn't want to be that guy who packs a bag ahead of time for a gold medal," he says.
Wise's media obligations begin in earnest around noon with a 12-minute press conference. A trek through the International Broadcast Center – through which he carries a stuffed garment bag that he had packed poorly – ends with him in an NBC green room.
The video rebroadcast of his run plays as he has make-up applied next door.
Wise's packed schedule starts at NBCSN, where a brief interview yields claps and congratulations from the crew.
"They're throwing me change-ups," he says.
A trip to the commissary leaves 15 minutes for lunch that consists of a salad, steamed vegetables and chicken and rice. He's starting to dream of the freezer full of elk and deer meat at home.
As he heads into the Olympic Park, Wise calls this a "gold-medal day." He doesn't mean that literally, although it could not be more appropriate given that he will receive his medal later in the evening.
In the lead-up to the Games as he balanced training with media obligations, days in which he got through grueling hours of both and accomplished everything he needed to earned the designation.
Even without the literal application, Wednesday would most certainly qualify as a gold-medal day.
He shuttles from interview to interview, fielding nearly identical questions.
Earlier in his career, Wise felt like he had to give unique answers to every question. Now he politely pulls out the same stock responses.
One stands out and becomes the focus at TODAY. As he is interviewed by Matt Lauer, Wise explains how having a family has changed him. Wise says Alexandra, whom he calls Lexi, and Nayeli provide balance for him.
Nayeli is growing old enough to understand what her dad does. The family has traveled together to competitions since she was an infant.
It's a cool development for Wise, who easily (and often) reverts to a toddler voice when asked to explain how his daughter feels about something.
"She can tell the difference between me and other skiers," he says. "She's like, 'Look, it's Lyman. Look it's Aaron. Look, it's Torin.' When she sees me, she's like, 'Go David Wise.'"
By the time he left for the medals ceremony in the evening, he still had not spoken to Nayeli, although he had Skyped with friends and family who held a viewing party at home.
On TODAY, he saw a clip of her jumping up and down to celebrate his run, then kissing his image on the television. Watching his daughter watch him was the only other time on Wednesday that Wise got choked up.
For all his family has done to give him balance – Wise says he could not consistently land contest runs until after Nayeli was born – it makes him different within a sport that skews even younger and isn't big on the diaper crowd.
Wise is asked on TODAY why he doesn't fit the mold of a typical halfpipe skier.
It's a fair question, as Wise most certainly does not fit that.
Yet it is one of the most unique skiers who will become the face of the sport, at least to a broader audience that tunes in every four years. That was motivating for Wise.
"For me, it was almost a challenge to myself," he says, "I want to be the guy that gets to go out and represent this sport to the world."
Wise represents his sport well even if he is not always representative of its culture. In the final segment at TODAY, where he spent three hours, he reiterates that he likes to go fast and fly high, but how he spends his time away from snow is different than friends and competitors without families.
"A guy like him, it's totally different" says Aissam Dabbaoui, his manager, who notes that he doesn't follow the 10-percent rule that dictates that 10 percent of prize money should be spent on friends at the bar.
As she stands off to the side on the set, Alexandra Wise says this makes him a different face of the sport. His teammates, for example, are all teenagers. While they're playing video games, Wise is likely busy with his family. He's no better or worse than they are. He's just different.
"I hope the world can really fall in love with him for who he really is and not just as a skier but as a person," she says.
Later as he spends time with his family before the medals ceremony, he gives one more answer as to why he doesn't fit the mold in freeskiing.
"My place in the sport is what I do on a pair of skis," he says, "and the fact that I'm different outside of that is just part of who I am."
Wise will have media obligations for some time to come and expects to head to New York before returning home. He's debating offers from The Tonight Show, which was handed over to Jimmy Fallon this week, or the Late Show with David Letterman. While being away from his family has been difficult, Wise realizes he must act quickly if he wants to capitalize on his win.
"My wind sail's up," he says. "I'm just going where the wind blows me."
With that, he said goodbye to his family, who were catching a flight home, and headed to the medals plaza to finally receive the gold he'd come here for.