Four-time defending Winter X Snowboarder X gold medalist Nate Holland and 2006 Winter Olympic gold medalist Seth Wescott are top talents for the U.S. But you knew that. The rest of the skilled U.S. rippers are relatively unknown. They shouldn't be. Here's a breakdown:
Powers was an early star at Winter X. He has four medals total, including gold from 1998 in Half Pipe and Slopestyle. That performance earned him Athlete of Winter X. Powers got serious about Snowboarder X after watching Seth Wescott win Winter Olympic gold in 2006. Powers already has two Winter Olympic medals from Halfpipe -- 2002 gold and 1998 bronze -- but is now trying to make the 2010 Winter Olympic Team in Snowboard Cross. He started to focus in 2007 and has moved up quickly. Although not top-tier yet, he's had amazing success in early season 2010 FIS World Cups (third place at Chapelco, ARG, in September 2009 and Telluride, Colo., in December). That puts him above some veteran racers on the "A" team in the Olympic chase. He may not have the experience of other racers in the field, but his strong freestyle background means he's good over jumps. He's in contention for a top-10 at WX. His last WX Snowboarder X race was in 2007. He finished 22nd.
The 2009 WX silver medalist, Watanabe has the most consistent success of any U.S. snowboarder since WX13. He won the Sunday River, Maine, FIS World Cup in February and has had numerous podiums, putting him on the short list for the Olympic team. Graham originally made a name for himself in 2004, when he became the first American to win an FIS World Cup boardercross event (Valle Nevado, CHI).
Initially an alternate for the 2006 Olympics, Graham went from wax tech assistant (to Curtis Bacca) to athlete when Jayson Hale was injured in Italy. Watanabe finished 31st.
Graham has some of the best starts in the field, so he often gets out in front of the pack. The problem is, he's small (5 feet 6 inches, 150 pounds) and can't generate speed as well as some of the larger racers. A true competitor, Graham has been trying to scare himself and push his limits for 2010. That has made him more comfortable on the course and more of a force at events.
Baumgartner made his first WX Final in 2009, finishing fifth. At 6 feet, 205 pounds, Nick is the antithesis of Graham Watanabe, and he's got a solid athletic background which has transferred over to Snowboarder X: He was an All-American wrestler (189 pounds) and state champion hurdler (300-meter) in 2000.
Baumgartner has been coming on strong. Besides his WX13 Final appearance, he had three podiums on the FIS World Cup series during the 2009 season. He also owns a World Cup victory, which came in March 2008 at Lake Placid, N.Y.
He's had ups and downs in his five WX starts. In addition to his 2009 fifth, he scored the No. 2 seed in 2007. But he's also crashed in numerous WX events. Still, he enjoys going top speed with people next to him, and his turning skills are solid. If he stays on his feet, look for him to make another WX Final.
Nick is a member of the U.S. Snowboarding A Team.
OK, so he's hardly an unknown. But Palmer has been relatively low-key of late. The original action sports bad boy, the 41-year-old is making one last push to go to the Olympics and win Winter X. He has six WX medals -- all gold -- in four different WX sports. No one else has done that.
Palmer has mellowed some and that attitude has changed, and he isn't quite as sure of himself as he was in the past. Once an ace in a multitude of sports, including skiing, snowboarding and mountain biking, his first-ever mental block is keeping him from excelling in boardercross in 2010. That and age, and likely mileage.
He's a member of the 2010 U.S. Snowboarding B Team. He'll be riding a blank, black board and wearing solid black at his 11th WX.
Cheever is a veteran WX racer with three starts under his belt and a best finish of sixth in 2009. As a member of the U.S. Snowboarding A Team, he trains at the Park City Center of Excellence and is in the best shape of his life. He earned his first World Cup podium in February 2009: second at Stoneham, CAN. That finish put him in contention for making the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team, but he's not as consistent as other racers on the squad who are considered threats at Winter X.