Friday, December 10, 2004

Gimme Five

World Cup race winner, Graham Watanabe


World Cup champion Graham Watanabe on the podium after winning at Valle Nevado, Chile in September.

Michael Ames of The Idaho Mountain Express caught up with Graham Watanabe, former Sun Valley snowboard team racer and current United States Snowboard Team Boardercross racer, while he was in Salt Lake City preparing to travel to Austria for a competition. In September, Watanabe became the first American man to win a World Cup Boardercross race only nine months after breaking his pelvis in four places. Watanabe is also looking forward to competing in the X-Games in Aspen next month.

Here's five minutes with Graham:

MTE: So where are you traveling to this week?

GW: I head off for Austria -- We'll be staying at Massfeld/Hermagor, Austria. It's a ski resort in Austria.

MTE: Who are you traveling with?

GW: I'll be meeting up with the rest of the US Team and then we spend a week in Austria -- two days competing in two separate Boardercross races and three days training.

MTE: Is it unusual to compete twice in one trip?

GW: A race was rescheduled from France to Austria this time. The same thing happened when I went to Chile. Hopefully this will follow suit as it did in Chile and I'll kick some ass.

MTE: To refresh our reading audience, what did you accomplish in Chile?

GW: I spent five weeks there. The second day I was in South America I won a Continental Cup Boardercross race, then traveled north, joined up with the US Team and competed in two World Cup races. I did OK in the first, just getting my feet wet. I competed in the second race and ended up winning it.

MTE: You were injured in a race in January of this year, breaking your pelvis in four places, among other injuries. How did it feel to win a World Cup nine months after your injury?

GW: It was pretty insane -- totally unexpected and literally unbelievable. If I had actually realized what had happened I may have been more emotional, but I just couldn't stop smiling. It was a new experience and one that I'll never forget and hopefully get to experience again. Winning that World Cup created so many stepping stones for me -- getting invited to the X-Games, getting funded for traveling for the rest of the World Cup Tour.

MTE: Since your injuries, how do you feel?

GW: All the injuries are nonexistent. I don't even think about them -- so as far as health goes, everything is awesome. I healed fast and well and just assumed that was common protocol, but after talking to doctors and therapists I'm starting to realize how huge it was how I came back and what speed I came back.

MTE: You started out racing for the SVSEF in slalom and giant slalom events. Did you ever think you'd be racing Boardercross?

GW: I was locked into those events and I never thought about doing the pipe or any other events like it. But I had entered in a few boardercross events and I had done pretty well. My dad and I had a couple of conversations about entering in more, but I never considered it too seriously. Then, after a series of injuries that limited me from racing, I eventually started to think about Boardercross again.

MTE: You say you talked to your dad about the decision. Is he a big part of your career?

GW: He's been my life manager forever. I run everything by him and get his opinion on everything.

MTE: What kind of board are you riding on these days?

GW: I'm currently trying to decide on a board -- I'm bringing three boards to Austria and a fourth one is potentially coming from me to test later on. I've been riding on an old Scott board and hopefully in Austria I'll be able to make a decision.

MTE: What comes after Austria?

GW: I'll come and race in a Jeep King of the Mountain race at Snowbird the day after I land in Salt Lake. Then, after home for Christmas, I'll be racing at Mt. Bachelor; then hopefully Whistler for World Championships; then the X-Games in Aspen at the end of January. It'll be a busy month.

MTE: How is traveling?

GW: It's fun, but I miss the old crew of people I traveled with from the alpine circuit. It's hard not to travel around with Nate Galpin after we did Chile together. I've always had fun with Nate and that trip was the most amazing I've ever taken.

MTE: Over the summer you attended a German language school. Did you know you would be having the chance to use your language skills while competing?

GW: It's nice that I'm able to travel to places where I'm able to use it. I think the language is fun; I think languages in general are fun. I started with German in high school and wanted to keep with it and not lose any more. I plan on going back to school for more next summer.

MTE: Well, good luck on your races, of course, and on improving your German skills in Austria, Graham. We hope you'll call us to report your victories.

GW: I certainly will.

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