Alumni Spotlight: Graham Watanabe
Graham Watanabe, 35, grew up riding as a member of the SVSEF snowboard program. He excelled at the sport, and became the first American to win a Snowboardcross World Cup in Valle Nevado, Chile. Between 2004 and 2010, Graham garnered 17 top-10 World Cup finishes, and his talents led him to competition in Snowboardcross at the 2006 and 2010 Winter Games. Now based out of Salt Lake City, Graham is in his second season as head coach of the U.S. Adaptive Snowboard Team, and is leading the charge in Pyeongchang as head coach of the Paralympic Snowboard Team.
A rundown of the team:
Just as with the able-bodied side, there is a National Team and separately named Games team. The entirety of the National Team qualified for the Paralympic Games, as well as three non-National Team athletes.
We compete in two disciplines: Snowboardcross and Banked Slalom. Snowboardcross is a head-to-head race(in contrast to able-body 4-across or 6-across), and Banked Slalom is a best-of-three run format against the clock.
Graham’s path to head coach:
After my time competing, I dabbled in sports announcing, working for NBC and ESPN, calling able-bodied Snowboardcross races. I also did contract coaching for a couple domestic programs in the Intermountain region and one season with the Australian World Cup team. While in Aspen for X-Games, I was able to take some laps with some of the adaptive snowboarders who were competing at that X-Games in Snowboardcross. Having watched them in Sochi, I knew there was potential for them to dominate the sport for years to come, and after taking some runs, I thought to myself, “If I were to continue coaching, that would be the program I’d like to work with.” Fast forward to the following fall, and I got a call from the USOC asking if I would be interested.
Without getting into the boring details, that’s pretty much all there was to it! Since then, the program has grown from six athletes to 12 on the roster, we have multiple World Championship and World Cup Overall titles, and we’re looking at a lot of potential in PyeongChang!
What he’s looking forward to at the Games:
What I’m looking forward to most is experiencing the Games from one more perspective. I foreran for the 2002 Olympics in Snowboard Parallel GS in Salt Lake City, competed last-minute as an alternate in the 2006 Games in Snowboardcross (Torino), made the Olympic team in Snowboardcross again in 2010 (Vancouver), went as a spectator to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi to watch my wife (Heather McPhie) compete in moguls, and now I’ll get to go as a coach!