Palmer makes case for Olympic spot
STONEHAM, Quebec – Shaun Palmer, a 41-year-old snowboarding pioneer from South Lake Tahoe, finished third in a World Cup event Thursday, keeping him in Olympic contention.
U.S. teammate Graham Watanabe secured his spot on the U.S. Olympic snowboardcross team with a second-place finish.
“I don’t even really know how to summarize it,” Watanabe said. “It’s a confirmation of everything I have worked for. It’s not the end all be all, but making it to the Olympics is a difficult task, especially with a team like ours, and achieving that goal is a big step in achieving a bigger goal in my snowboarding, which is to be the best I can be.”
Watanabe finished behind Pierre Vaultier of France on Thursday in the final qualifying event of the season. This will be his second Olympics. He made the 2006 Games after heading to Torino as a wax technician, then grabbing a spot when Palmer injured his Achilles tendon.
“I felt like I was Olympic caliber in 2006. I had raced all season against all those same people. But I also felt like I had teammates who were better suited for that position and it took injuries for me to get in there,” Watanabe said. “But this time I feel like I belong there. I put in several years of progress and consistent riding in the top group.”
Watanabe joins Nate Holland in earning automatic spots on the team. Defending Olympic champion Seth Wescott should earn a spot when the full team is announced Monday. Coaches must then decide between Palmer, Nick Baumgartner and Ross Powers, who each have a third-place World Cup result this season.
Palmer, a legend of the sport, earned his third World Cup podium of his career. USSA sources were reporting he needed at least second-place result to make the Olympic Team, but U.S. coach Peter Foley didn’t tip off who might have the team’s final Olympic spot.
According to Foley, Palmer was doing everything right, but the top two just had more speed.
“He did awesome. He qualified fourth, so he had good speed. In all of his heats he rode great, he made passes and charged it all day,” Foley said. “In the final heat Pierre Vaultier and Graham were faster than him and he got third. It’s pretty hard to take for him.”
For Watanabe, the journey thus far has been incredible, and the future is something he looks forward to.
“I want to applaud everyone that was gunning for it today. It was an intense atmosphere. Ross Powers did an incredible job and got so close. And Shaun Palmer, of course, came so close and did such an amazing job,” Watanabe said. “It’s been an awesome year and it’s been an honor to ride alongside these guys. I’m psyched I could be here for it all.”