Golden boy Hamilton rolls at Jr. Olympics
Aspen Times Staff Writer
The legend grows.
Aspen’s nordic skiing wunderkind, 16-year-old Simi Hamilton, captured two gold medals in dominating fashion at the J-1 division Junior Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., this week, winning the 1K sprint on Monday and, by a robust margin of 1 minute, 2 seconds, the 15K classic race on Wednesday.
And, today, with the running of the J-1 10K freestyle, or skate, race ” Hamilton’s forte ” the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club (AVSC) skier and Aspen High School junior could make it a golden three-peat.
“He’s having a great time, and it’s really exciting to be here to watch him,” Ruthie Brown, Simi’s mom and an AVSC nordic coach, said in a telephone interview last night from Lake Placid.
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“He’s still focused and very intent upon his mission to ski well, but he’s also lighthearted, all smiles, happy and easy to be with.”
Hamilton, who won Junior Olympic gold medals in skate the last two winters as a J-2 (for 14- and 15-year-olds), captured his first U.S. National Championship as a first-year J-1 (for 16- and 17-year-olds) in December in the skate race. At the same event in Rumford, Maine, Hamilton took second in the classic race and third in the sprint, results that earned him a spot on the U.S. Scandinavian Cup Team and a trip to Estonia in January and February.
That experience, in part, has propelled Hamilton to new heights, Brown said.
“He had some really incredible experiences in Norway and Sweden last summer, and then to be able to travel to Estonia this winter and ski against some of the best skiers in the world has really bumped his level of skiing up extraordinarily,” she said. “In addition to that, he’s matured. And, with that maturity, he’s really come into his own.”
In the opening event of the Junior Olympics, the 1K sprint, Hamilton posted the fastest qualifying time, then won three consecutive heats, including the finals by a comfortable five-second margin, to take home the gold. Runner-up Matthew Johnson of Alaska was the same skier who edged Hamilton for the J-1 classic title at the U.S. Nationals in Maine in December.
Meanwhile, Brandon Cooper, another AVSC nordic racer, AHS junior and close friend of Hamilton’s, finished sixth in the J-1 sprint. “It’s very difficult for altitude skiers to come down to this elevation, where it’s all leg speed,” said Brown. “So it’s a remarkable feat ” for Brandon and Simi ” to be able to ski that quickly.”
In the 15K classic race on Wednesday, on a 7.5K loop course that included portions of the Olympic venue, like “Russian Hill,” Hamilton ran away with the victory, finishing in 45 minutes, 44.5 seconds. In a field of 80-plus skiers, Simon Thomas-Train was second, more than a minute back, and one of only four skiers to finish within two minutes of Hamilton.
Cooper was solid again, in 16th at 49:46.9.
“Tricky, tricky waxing, very difficult skiing conditions, and [Simi] was skiing completely at ease,” said Brown. “The terrain, with Russian Hill, is as tough as any in the world.”
Laura Hatanaka, 15, an AHS freshman and AVSC J-2 racer, made her debut in a national-level race in the classic race on Wednesday and posted a top-40 finish. “It’s her first experience at the Junior Olympics, and she’s got some deer in the headlights syndrome, which happens, but she’s held her own,” said Brown.
Today, Hamilton takes aim at the 10K skate race.
“You never want to jinx anything by being too overconfident, but [skate] certainly is and always has been his strength,” said Brown. “Something would have to go radically wrong for him not to add another title this weekend.”
And on Saturday, Hamilton will compete in the fourth and final event of the J-1 Junior Olympics, the three-man relay, with the Rocky Mountain Division (RMD) No. 1 team.
Consisting of three 5K legs, the first two classic, the final one skate, Brown said Hamilton will likely be skating the anchor spot for the team. Cooper remains a candidate to join Hamilton on that team, she said.
“However it shakes out,” she said, “they have a good chance of medaling.”
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