Watanabe, Olson win inaugural snowboardcross national titles | SummitDaily.com

Watanabe, Olson win inaugural snowboardcross national titles

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MT. HOOD MEADOWS, Ore. – For snowboardcross riders looking to get the upper-hand on the competition, the secret may be in their own back yard. This summer Leslee Olson (Bend, Ore.) trained with wheels on her snowboard out of a homemade start gate built by fiancée Troy Schader. She then jumpstarted her season with a win at the inaugural U.S. Snowboardcross (SBX)Championships Friday and increased her chances of making the U.S. Olympic team.Fellow U.S. Snowboarding rider Graham Watanabe (Sun Valley, Idaho) was crowned the men’s U.S. champion, followed by national team riders Jason Smith (Basalt) and Nate Holland (Olympic Valley, Calif.), who also trained out of a custom-built start gate this summer and earned a World Cup SBX win in October.”Training in the start gate made a big difference – night and day,” said Olson, who won the Winter Gravity Games title at Copper Mountain in March and has been competing internationally since 1996. “I also had some mental issues to overcome after the World Cup in Switzerland. I tore up my ankle on a banked turn and couldn’t race. Since then I found myself hesitating on banked turns, but today I felt like I finally got over that.” Conversely, Watanabe’s battle wasn’t so much a feature on the course or his reaction time in the start gate, but rather he was literally having trouble making it into the start gate at all. He has traveled to every World Cup SBX this season as the team’s first alternate, but never got the nod and had to watch as everyone else competed. Winning at Mt. Hood Meadows was Watanabe’s only sure shot at securing a start in three World Cup events – two of which will serve as Olympic team qualifiers.”It’s been super frustrating but super fun all at the same time,” said Watanabe, who won a World Cup last season. “But it had to be done. This was my last chance to qualify to compete. I’ve been riding really well, but so has everyone else. … To finally get in there and get my chance is really satisfying.”Nonetheless, Watanabe’s ride to the finals wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. He finished second in his first and second heats, then was tripped up in the start of the third heat when the gate was dropped without proper warning. His reaction was good, but his contacts were suddenly bone dry. While concentrating more on his eyes than the course, he spun out and momentarily thought his day was over. Instead, judges noted the miscommunication at the start gate and re-ran Watanabe’s third heat.Watanabe, Olson and the rest of the U.S. SBX riders will have to wait until the new year to duke it out for those coveted Olympic SBX team spots. Next up are two SBX races in Bad Gastein, Austria, Jan. 4-5 – one of which is an Olympic qualifier. Then it’s on to one final race before the Winter Games in Kronplatz, Italy, Jan. 14. The U.S. Olympic Snowboard Team will be announced Jan. 21 at the Chevrolet U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix in Mountain Creek, N.J.U.S. Snowboardcross ChampionshipsMt. Hood Meadows, Ore. Dec. 16MEN1. Graham Watanabe, Sun Valley, Idaho2. Jason Smith, Basalt3. Nate Holland, Olympic Valley, Calif.4. Ryan Hickey, Canada5. Jonathan Cheever, Saugus, Mass.6. Ibon Idigoras, Spain7. Mattias Blomberg, Sweden8. Jonte Grundelius, Sweden-WOMEN1. Leslee Olson, Bend, Ore.2. Kathrin Kellenberger, Switzerland3. Emily Thomas, Australia4. Maria Danielsson, Sweden5. Sarris McComb, Missoula, Mont.6. Marni Yamada, Seattle, Wash.7. Sarah Hunter, Canada8. Stephanie Hickey, Australia