Friday, June 5, 2009

Watanabe will visit troops in Afghanistan

X-Games medalist tour set for later this month

Graham Watanabe shows his gold medal after winning his second World Cup snowboardcross race in February 2008 in Japan. Photo by

Later this month, U.S. military troops in Afghanistan will get acquainted with the snowboarder from Hailey known as "The Little One."

U.S. Olympic snowboardcross hopeful Graham Watanabe, 27, plans to participate in a Goodwill Military Tour of Afghanistan June 19-28 that will focus on X-Games medalists from different disciplines.

Pro Sports MVP is organizing the "X Games Tour," which will bring skateboarder Jen O'Brien, freeskier Sarah Burke, BMX rider Brad Simms, snowboarder Watanabe and free skier Grete Elliassen overseas to meet the troops. Watanabe won the X Games silver medal in snowboardcross in January.

Scott Watanabe of Ketchum-based Scott USA, Graham's father, said the responsibilities of the athletes include autograph sessions, meet-and-greets with the troops, walking tours of facilities, hospital visits and question-and-answer sessions.

"It will be a unique opportunity for these athletes to understand what our military troops are going through. I've told Graham it could be the kind of experience that does more for him, more than what he gives to them," Watanabe said.

Graham Watanabe, the first American man to win an FIS World Cup SBX race, is a three-time World Cup race winner and 2006 national champion. He made the U.S. Olympic Team in SBX in 2006 and will be seeking his second Olympic team berth starting late this summer.

Watanabe leaves Sunday, June 7, for a U.S. Snowboard Team training camp at Mount Hood, Ore., and then takes off from Portland, Ore., June 18 for Arab emirate Qatar. From there, the traveling group will be transported to the Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan.

He returns to Salt Lake City June 29 and then will continue training for the first Olympic qualifying event in August.

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