Hamilton on top again in Aspen tune up | AspenTimes.com

Hamilton on top again in Aspen tune up

Steve Benson
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Aspen High School nordic skier, Brandon Cooper, labors into the finish chute of Saturday's, February 7, 2004, Alpine Bank 5k Classic Junior Olympic qualifying race at Spring Gulch nordic ski area. Cooper has qualified for the Junior Olympics this year. Aspen Times photo/Nick Saucier.

Nordic skiers from around the state descended on the valley over the weekend for a series of qualifying races for both the Junior Olympics and the state high school championships.

A Rocky Mountain Division (RMD) 1K sprint race was held on the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club’s (AVSC) nordic course Friday, while a massive series of races attracting 350 skiers from 22 divisions took place at the Spring Gulch Ski Area above Carbondale Saturday.

Aspen High’s Simi Hamilton, Brandon Cooper and Laura Hatanaka, three skiers who had already qualified for the Junior Olympics next month, had impressive outings.

Hamilton took first in the sprint race for his division Friday, while Cooper and Hatanaka both finished in the top five in their divisions in the combined RMD/high school classic race Saturday. Hamilton did not compete Saturday.

While most of Aspen High’s upper-classmen nordic racers had already qualified for the high school state championships, slated for Feb. 20-21 in Steamboat Springs, a few AHS/AVSC racers remain on the cusp of qualifying for the Junior Olympics.

This Friday in the RMD division championships in Crested Butte, Aspen High students and AVSC team members Geoff Walker, Cori Hach, and Erin Kiernan will all be battling for a spot in the Junior Olympics.

“They’re all right on the verge,” AHS and AVSC nordic coach Travis Moore said.

Cooper and Hamilton, both juniors at AHS, will be racing in the J-1 division (for 16- and 17-year-olds), while Hatanaka, a freshman, is a J-2 (for 14- and 15-year-olds). The Junior Olympics, or so-called “JOs,” run March 5-15 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Cooper edged out Hamilton for first in last year’s RMD sprint on the AVSC course, and the two will be pushing each other again in the Junior Olympics.

“They’ve really helped each other, and pushed each other along,” said AVSC nordic coach Ruthie Brown about Hamilton and Cooper. “They’re good friends.”

Hatanaka has exploded on the nordic scene, much like Hamilton did his freshman year.

“It’s great to see,” Brown said. “She’s so committed and has worked so hard and it has paid off.

“All the other kids her age really admire her.”

Hamilton won the 1K sprint on Friday, just four days after returning from Estonia and two weeks of racing and training with the U.S. Scandinavian Cup Team. And last week, Hamilton said he wasn’t planning on doing too much in the 1K sprint.

“Probably the smart thing to do is take it easy because I’m already qualified for JO’s (Junior Olympics) and to give my body a break, because I’m still pretty tired,” Hamilton told the Aspen Times. “But we’ll see how it goes.”

Ruthie Brown, Hamilton’s mom and an 11-year AVSC nordic coach, said she was blown away by his performance.

“It’s truly amazing,” Brown said. “His heart has always been in the outdoors ” he’s always loved to ski no matter what kind of skis he was one, or a snowboard ” whatever it took to glide on snow.”

Meanwhile, the combined AHS/AVSC girls ski team will be gunning for a fifth consecutive state title later this month at Steamboat, while the boys will be looking for their third in five years.

“We have high hopes of doing well,” Brown said. “We graduated one of our top females, but Laura’s coming into her place, and the boys are consistently placing very well.”

Brown said Aspen’s toughest challenge in the state championships will come from Summit County and Steamboat Springs.