Aspen skiers win three national championships
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Last week at opposite ends of the country, three Aspen Valley Ski/Snowboard Club athletes captured national championship titles in Junior Olympic competition.
On Thursday at Sugarloaf, Maine, AVSC freestylers Travis Redd, 18, and Kristin Walla, 15, claimed age-division titles in upright aerials at the USSA Freestyle Junior Olympics. Walla is the first girl to claim a national championship for the AVSC freestyle team.
And on Friday in McCall, Idaho, AVSC Nordic racer Simi Hamilton skated to a first-place finish in the J-2 division boys 5K freestyle race at the U.S. Junior Olympic Nordic Championships. Hamilton’s performance delivered AVSC its first Nordic national title in at least a decade, according to Toby Morse, AVSC’s Nordic director.
“Technically, he’s an impeccable skier,” said Morse. “And he’s just tough.”
At 14, Hamilton, who goes by “Sim,” was competing in his first Junior Olympic competition in the J-2 division – the youngest racers at the event, ages 14 and 15.
In the boys 5K freestyle, Hamilton matched up against the top 50 J-2 racers in the country, from Alaska to Maine and all points in between. “This is the cream of the crop,” Morse said. “And this was Sim’s first year of eligibility at the Junior Olympics, which makes it more impressive because he’s skiing against older J-2s who have been there before.”
At the 4K mark of the race, Hamilton enjoyed a 9-second lead, but he didn’t let up. Instead, he turned on the after-burners to win the race by 20 seconds over Alaska’s Matthew Johnson with a time of 13 minutes, 49.8 seconds. “The second-place through seventh-place finishers were separated by 20 seconds, and Sim had that margin on the No. 2 guy,” Morse said. “That’s pretty awesome.”
Earlier in the week, Hamilton posted several top finishes in other Nordic events at the Junior Olympics. On Monday, March 4, Hamilton claimed third in the 1K sprint race. Then, on Wednesday in the 5K classic race, Hamilton raced through snow and rain to a sixth-place finish. And Saturday, the day after winning the 5K freestyle, Hamilton partnered with fellow Rocky Mountain Division racers Kyle Ahern of Summit County and Glenn Randall of Grand Mesa to finish fourth in the 3-by-3K relay event. “The first two kids skied classic, then Sim skated the last leg,” Morse said. “And he closed a big gap to move the team from fifth to fourth.”
After the competitions, Hamilton was named a Junior All-American, in freestyle, classic and the sprint. In late February, Hamilton also won the 5K freestyle event at the Colorado High School State Skiing Championships, which helped the combined Aspen High-AVSC boys team capture the team title.
In the upright aerials competition at the United States Ski Association Freestyle Junior Olympics at Sugarloaf, Maine, each skier was judged based on the combined score from two combination jumps: a big-air jump first, then a 15-foot quarterpipe jump immediately after.
As the only skier in the J-1 boys field (ages 17-18) to hit the big-air jump “switch,” or backwards, Aspen’s Travis Redd quickly distinguished himself from the field of 45 men. “He was the only one doing it, and that raised the bar for him,” AVSC freestyle director Eric Knight said. “He used his new-school mastery to edge out the competition.”
With a switch 540 off the big-air jump followed by a huge “tweaked air” off the quarterpipe, the Aspen High senior claimed his first Junior Olympic National Championship over Tim Mancuso and Ryan McPherson, two Eastern Division skiers.
AVSC’s Andrew Wickes, 14, placed fifth in aerials in the J-3 division (ages 13-14), ahead of Glenn Engleman, 14, in ninth. AVSC’s Jon Lafferty posted a 14th-place finish in the J-2 boys division.
In the moguls and dual-moguls competition at the Junior Olympics, the AVSC boys didn’t fare as well. Redd finished in 39th position overall in moguls, followed by teammate Gus Ukraine in 47th in the field of 62 men. Dusty Spence, one of AVSC’s top freestylers, missed the entire competition with a shoulder injury. “It’s too bad because he would’ve been successful in all the events,” Knight said.
In the dual moguls, Ukraine was paired in the first round against the skier who eventually took second. “He skied a real strong, exciting run, but lost by a narrow margin,” Knight said, tying for 17th overall. Redd earned a starting slot in the 40-man dual moguls field as an alternate, and proved himself worthy by advancing through the first three rounds. “He went out in the round of nine, losing to the skier who won it, so for getting in as an alternate and finishing in a tie for ninth is good for Travis,” Knight said.
“It was tough,” Knight continued. “All our guys went out to skiers who finished third or better, but that’s how it goes in duals.”
The day before the women’s upright aerials competition at the USSA Freestyle Junior Olympics, 15-year-old Kristin Walla of AVSC nailed her first triple-twister jump in practice, Knight said.
“She completed a couple of them at a very high level of proficiency, so we decided to go for it for the competition,” Knight said.
The gamble paid off as Walla stuck the triple-twister in both of her launches off the big-air jump, then followed up with 180 mute grabs off the quarterpipe, complete with solid landings.
The combinations earned Walla the J-2 girls aerials Junior Olympic National Championship in the field of 22 women. Overall, Walla finished second to Jessica Davis, 18, of Lake Tahoe, Calif.
In the J-2 standings, Walla finished ahead of Maryann Skraba of Steamboat Springs, followed by AVSC’s Brittany Biebl, 16, in third place. “Brittany had two really solid jumps, double spread-eagles, then 180s off the quarterpipe,” Knight said.
In the girls moguls events, both Walla and Biebl barely qualified for the 45-girl field. “They just made it in,” Knight said, “but Brittany finished 27th and Kristin finished 33rd, so both of them skied well ahead of their national rankings,” Knight said.
In dual moguls, Walla matched up against the girl who took third in the first round, and had to settle for a tie for 17th in the field of 32 starters.
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