Aspen’s Simi Hamilton talks start of cross country ski season as career nears an end
The 33-year-old doesn’t know if he’ll make a push for a fourth Olympics
Normalcy will be few and far between this ski season, so Simi Hamilton’s traditional slow start brought a sense of calm to a world that’s mostly in chaos. The Aspen native and U.S. cross country ski team veteran has rarely been quick out of the gate when it comes to World Cup racing and that remained true when the season got underway this past weekend in Ruka, Finland.
“You can do all the dryland training you want, you can do all the roller skiing you want, but those on-snow feelings, they only come when you’ve actually been on snow,” Hamilton said Tuesday from Europe. “I’ve basically never felt very good for the first few weeks of the season anyway. My engine takes a little bit to get warmed up, but I feel once it’s warm, it runs pretty good.”
The World Cup season got underway last week for the cross country athletes with the Ruka Triple, a mini-tour of three races over three days. Hamilton finished 55th in the overall standings, which was third among Americans behind Scott Patterson (42nd) and Gus Schumacher (32nd). Norwegian Olympic champion Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo took the overall title.
On the women’s side, Basalt’s Hailey Swirbul finished 32nd overall, including a personal-best finish of 18th in the season-opening sprint. She was third among American women, with Olympic gold medalist Jessie Diggins finishing 15th and Rosie Brennan finishing fifth overall. Norway’s Therese Johaug won the three-race affair.
With this week’s races in Lillehammer, Norway, having been canceled, the athletes are off until races on Dec. 12 and 13 in Davos, Switzerland. Being adaptable is an important trait this winter in a season that will be dictated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“At this point we are not expecting to have races just canceled all of a sudden and have our schedules changed at the last minute, but we are prepared for that,” Hamilton said. “We are kind of preparing ourselves for anything and obviously we hope everything goes off without a hitch and we get to race a complete season with world champs and everything.”
Hamilton, 33, is the lone member of the men’s A team this winter. He’s a three-time Olympian (2010, 2014, 2018) and has competed in the past five world championships, with a sixth appearance likely later this season in Germany. Long known as being a sprint specialist, Hamilton is trying to use his age to his advantage by putting a little more emphasis on distance races this season.
Although, the sprints, notably those at world championships, still command the most attention from him.
“There are a ton of really good races that definitely play to my strengths, so I’m really looking forward to all those. Just got my fingers crossed that we actually get to race them,” Hamilton said. “As I get older I’m certainly slowing down when it comes to sprinting. I still consider myself more of a sprint specialist than a distance specialist, though I think my distance skiing is much better than it was five years ago.”
Between this year’s world championships and next year’s Olympic Games in China, not to mention the weekly grind of the World Cup itself, the next two seasons loom large for all skiers and it remains to be seen what role Hamilton will play in it all.
He’s willing to admit that retirement isn’t far off, and that both he and his wife, women’s A team member Sophie Caldwell Hamilton, could hang up their racing bibs as soon as this spring. But Hamilton also is feeling encouraged by a young, cohesive group of American men he calls teammates and can’t say a fourth Olympic appearance is out of the question.
“To be around that energy is really contagious. I’m learning just as much from them as they are from me,” Hamilton said of the younger Americans. “We are just enjoying it right now so we are not focused on how much longer we want to go. I don’t think you’d see either of us skiing past the next Olympics and I don’t even know if we’ll be at the next Olympics, but we are not really closing the door on anything yet. We are just trying to enjoy it and be a part of this really awesome team and make the most of it while we can.”
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