Hamilton wins 4 golds at Junior Olympics

Tim Mutrie
Aspen Times Staff Writer

After Aspen’s Simi Hamilton swept three nordic races in five days at the Junior Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., last week, his rivals must have wondered whether he’d have anything left on the sixth and final day.

But Hamilton, as it turned out, saved his best for last.

In the J-1 division three-man relay race Saturday, Aspen’s Brandon Cooper and Grand Mesa’s Glenn Randall skied the opening 5K legs for the Rocky Mountain Division No. 1 team, then handed the figurative baton to Hamilton, the anchorman, for the deciding lap. He was sitting in seventh place, some 30 seconds back from the leader.

Then, in a show of full-throttle determination, the 16-year-old Hamilton proceeded to reel everyone in, passing the lead skier on the last turn to cement an astonishing comeback and a quadruple-gold week.

“Simi totally took it into his hands,” said Cooper, 16, an Aspen Valley Ski Club racer. He is a junior at Aspen High School, as is Hamilton.

“It was the most incredible thing to see him pass the last guy and then come into the stadium in first place. The whole place was shocked. The announcer was saying, ‘Where did this blue [suited] RMD skier come from?’

“The night before, all Glenn [the reigning Class 4A Colorado state cross-country champ] could talk about was how he’d never won a national championship before and how the next day we were going to make it happen.

“But it played out a lot closer than we expected. … And when Sim came around that last turn, just flying, me and Glenn dropped our skis and poles, and just ran. It was an amazing, amazing feeling to be No. 1 in the nation and to be part of it with a close friend like Sim.

“Everybody was like, ‘How did he do that?’ [They were] seriously stumped,” Cooper continued. “But they just don’t understand Simi. … He’s one of those kids who can just go and go and go.”

Hamilton, who collected his first U.S. National Championship in skate (J-1 division, for 16- and 17-year-olds) in his first appearance at nationals back in December, opened the week-long J-1 division Junior Olympics with a comfortable five-second victory in the 1K sprint on March 8. Cooper finished sixth.

Last Wednesday, Hamilton crushed the field in the 15K classic, winning by more than a minute. And last Friday, he bested runner-up Randall in the 10K skate by 21 seconds to make it three for three.

Entering Saturday’s relay, he knew he had nothing to lose.

“You have to have a great team, and we had an all-star team with Brandon and Glenn,” said Hamilton.

“I just went out and skied with my heart.”

A report on described the J-1 relay race this way: “It came down to the fact that the sensational Simi Hamilton races for the Rocky Mountain [Division]. … He left Lake Placid with four (!) gold medals and the most amazing performance of the week.”

Added Cooper, “I think a lot of kids there underestimated his ability. But when he came back into that stadium first, they realized pretty quick not only his talent and ability, but that he’s the No. 1 skier in the nation. No doubt.

“Sim’s just a crazy athlete for one, but after the sprint race, I knew he was in his best condition ever. And after that first win, I could see the fire in him.”

As a J-2 racer (for 14- and 15-year-olds), the youngest division that competes in the national-level Junior Olympics, Hamilton won Junior Olympic titles in skate the last two years ” but not in sprint, classic or the relay.

This time, as a first-year J-1, he made it a clean sweep.

“It’s definitely beyond my expectations, but I went into the week confident that I’d do well,” said Hamilton, who returned to Aspen on Sunday night. “Not this well, but it all worked out.

“Once I won the sprint, the pressure to do well came off. And I think that’s one of the biggest reasons I did so well. … I’m definitely still riding the thrill, but I’m back in the real world now. It was a great week, though.”

Hamilton and Cooper traveled to Lake Placid with Hamilton’s mom, Ruthie Brown, also a longtime AVSC nordic coach, and AVSC J-2 skier Laura Hatanaka. Twelve other Rocky Mountain Division coaches and more than 40 RMD skiers joined them. (Hamilton’s older sister, Jenny, a former AVSC racer and freshman racer at Middlebury College in Vermont, also competed in the older junior division at Lake Placid.)

Hamilton credited Colorado Rocky Mountain School nordic coach and history teacher Andrew Gardner, his head technician at the Junior Olympics, for putting him in a position to win. “Everyday, we were on the fastest skis with the best kick,” Hamilton said.

With the exception of an upcoming race at Snow Mountain Ranch in Winter Park that Hamilton may compete in, Hamilton said with a sigh that his season is over. That is, until you ask him whether he plans to race in the America’s Uphill on Aspen Mountain on Saturday.

“As much as I aim to not think about racing,” Hamilton said, “you always need to satisfy that need to go fast and hurt. So I may just jump into something like that.”

(If so, look for Hamilton to be on his skate skis.)

Next year, Hamilton hopes to once again qualify for the U.S. Scandinavian Cup team and, with any luck, the Junior World Championships for the first time.

“This success does make me think about what I’m capable of doing and what I want to do in the future, but the biggest thing I’ve realized is that I have time. Most skiers don’t hit their peak until their late 20s anyway, so I’ve got another 10 years or so. … I’m really happy where I’m at, and we’ll have to see where it all goes. But right now, I really couldn’t ask for anything more.”