Fresh off strong results, Aspen’s Hamilton eyeing Olympic berth
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Simi Hamilton has put early-season ailments behind him. Now, a trip to Vancouver could be ahead for the Aspen cross-country skier.
The 22-year-old has bolstered his chances of earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team with a strong showing at this week’s 2010 U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships in Anchorage, Alaska. Hamilton sped to a first-place finish in Saturday’s freestyle sprint, then took 10th in Monday’s 15-kilometer freestyle at Kincaid Park.
“I’m the strongest I’ve ever felt and am really psyched at this point,” said the Aspen High and Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club alum Tuesday. “I felt a lot healthier this week than I have been. I knew on Saturday that I’d have a much better shot of skiing well throughout the rounds. It worked out.”
Respiratory problems plagued Hamilton early this season – likely the result of frigid early-season temperatures and an increased training and competition load, he said. The recent Middlebury College (Vt.) graduate raced sparingly in recent years.
The setback did not stop him from participating in a host of events – from West Yellowstone, Mont., to Vernon and Canmore in Canada, among others – during November and December.
“I think I kind of fried my lungs pretty early on in November and never gave my body a chance to recover,” Hamilton said. “I’d start to recover by the end of the week, then ski myself into the same hole I was in the week previous.”
A 10-day holiday break spent in Aspen helped him bounce back mentally and physically, Hamilton said. The respite paid off once he clipped into his skis in Anchorage.
Hamilton cruised to victory in Saturday’s preliminary round – a major goal because “points are awarded just based off that time,” he said – then impressed in both the quarterfinals and semifinals.
“I felt really in control of both of those races,” he recalled. “I kind of just skied off the front at the beginning to control the pace a little.”
Hamilton’s strategy shifted in the six-man final. He slipped in behind a group of skiers for the first 500 meters, shielding himself from strong winds, then took turns trading the lead with Mike Hinckley, who trains with Alaska Pacific University.
With about 300 meters remaining, Hamilton made his move. He hoped he had the “top gear” needed to distance himself from Hinckley and the field down the stretch.
“I know most of the time that gear is there, and I definitely felt it coming the last 200 meters. … I didn’t look back,” Hamilton said. “With about 70 meters left, I knew I had the speed and momentum to carry me through. … I focused on crossing the line without doing anything stupid.
“I wouldn’t call [the win] surprising, but I was pleasantly impressed with myself. … I was super happy everything went my way. I had a good day.”
Monday was another favorable day. Hamilton is hoping for a similarly positive result in Friday’s classic sprint, a race that could ultimately make or break his Olympic hopes.
He finished second in West Yellowstone, then was the top American in Canmore in two previous classic sprints this season.
“I’m definitely going into Friday with a lot of confidence,” Hamilton said. “It’s nice to be able to look back and see how I’ve progressed with classic sprinting. When I’m out there skiing, I’m know I’m a lot stronger than I was a few months ago.”
The U.S.’s nordic team is expected to send a total of eight sprint and distance athletes to Vancouver in February. That number could balloon to 10 or more based on strong results in upcoming races, or if some teams elect not to bring their full compliment of athletes.
A preliminary list of Olympic team members will be released later this week, Hamilton said. The total athlete quota will be determined Jan. 20, at which point the squad will be formally announced.
“I’m definitely in there. I’m on the radar,” said Hamilton, who will represent the U.S. at the U23 world championships in Germany later this month.
“[Making the Olympic team] would pretty much be the most incredible thing ever. It’s such a big deal for me. I would be proud to go represent the U.S.”
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Had Hailey Swirbul decided against going to Europe, she would not have finished with a career-best result in Friday’s World Cup opener. Yes, there was a time, and not long ago, when the U.S. ski team member and Roaring Fork Valley native questioned her desire to put on a race bib.