Park City team part of Olympic history
Park City Snowboard Team (PCSBT) is starting to have quite a presence in Turin.
Last week they sent former PCSBT coach Ricky Bower and current coach Jeff Archibald overseas, but as of Wednesday, one of their riders, Graham Watanabe, officially made it to the Olympic stage.
Watanabe, a snowboardcross racer, was added to the team after American snowboarder Jayson Hale suffered a Games-ending knee injury. The 23-year-old rider from Sun Valley Idaho is a part-time member of PCSBT and trained with them over the summer.
Watanabe finished 31st on Thursday in the first snowboardcross event in Olympic history. He was behind gold medal winner Seth Westcott (Carrabassett Valley, Maine), Jason Smith (Basalt, Colo.) in sixth and Nate Holland (Squaw Valley, Calif.) in 14th place.
According to PCSBT director Michael Bell, it is very exciting for Graham to make the Games after two of their team hopefuls couldn’t make the final cut.
"An unfortunate injury to Hales, but it opened the doors to one of our guys," Bell said. "It’s great for us and more for him to have that."
Watanabe started out as an alpine snowboarder, but switched to snowboardcross to better use his all-around skill. He has been sidelined by injuries in recent years, but has slowly clawed his way back into the scene.
Bell says that Watanabe is a formidable competitor with strong overall skills and knowledge of when and where to take risks, which make him a well-known rider among the competition.
"He’s a great tactician," Bell said.
Before being recruited by the Olympic team, Watanabe was competing on the Jeep King of the Mountain Tour.
Bell said he is also happy to see his coaches experiencing so much success in Turin.
"It’s a great addition to have them there," Bell said.
Archibald is a former U.S. Snowboard Team member and coach and is no stranger to international competition.
Bell hopes to use both the exposure and the experiences of Archibald to help the PCSBT in the future.
"It’s nice to have that direct connection," Bell said. "It’s been a great selling tool. Athletes love him."
Bell is also hoping that a favorable American performance will help promote the relatively new sport of snowboardcross.
Snowboardcross features four competitors that race against each other down a challenging course, which often includes berms, jumps, gates and banks. The sport combines elements of both freestyle and racing, so athletes possessing good all-around snowboarding skills generally perform best.
Bell says that snowboardcross is still a niche sport. Despite the exciting roller derby style of the event, many people had never seen a race prior to these Olympics.
"It’s a sport that was virtually unknown to a lot of the mainstream viewership," Bell said.
On Tuesday, Bell was a guest on National Public Radio’s "All Things Considered" where he carefully described the rules of the sport, the course and how to negotiate it and the process of elimination.
He is hoping the exposure will breathe some much-needed life into the sport.
It’s a dying sport in the U.S. Not a lot of riders are really into it," Bell said. "The network is banking that it was a really good sell and fun for people to watch."
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