Simi Hamilton skates to first national title |

Simi Hamilton skates to first national title

Tim Mutrie
Aspen Times Staff Writer

First Colorado state champion, then Junior Olympic champion, now U.S. National Champion.

Aspen’s nordic-skiing phenom Simi Hamilton captured his first national crown in nordic skate at the U.S. National Championships in Rumford, Maine, Jan. 5-8.

The 16-year-old Hamilton, an Aspen High School junior, won the J-1 division 10K freestyle (or skate) race at Nationals, following up on a runner-up performance in the J-1 10K classic race a day earlier. Hamilton rounded out his first trip to the U.S. Nationals (16-year-olds are the youngest racers allowed) with a third-place finish in the J-1 1K sprint race.

The stellar results made Hamilton the top American qualifier for the United States’ Scandinavian Cup team, comprised of the top six men and women J-1’s in the country. Which is why, right now no doubt, the young Hamilton is probably shooshing along on some track in Estonia (framed by the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea, just west of St. Petersburg, Russia,) with the other Scandinavian Cup team skiers.

The two-week tour will include five races against top Scandinavian racers; Hamilton is scheduled to return Feb. 4. Simi’s older sister Jenny, now a freshman at Middlebury College in Vermont, is the only other Aspen nordic skier to make the elite Scandinavian Cup squad.

Hamilton, the 2002 and 2003 Junior Olympic champion in nordic freestyle as a J-2, further distinguished himself at Nationals because he is just a “first-year J-1,” meaning about half of his rivals are a year older than him. And, perhaps more importantly, it makes him the clear favorite to repeat next year (as he did as a first-year, then second-year J-2 in the Junior Olympics).

“It was certainly the largest and best competition he’s ever faced,” said Ruthie Brown, Simi’s mom and longtime coach with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club. “He had just come off the World Junior Biathlon tryouts in Minnesota and he raced well there. That got him pretty psyched about skiing well and skiing hard at Nationals.”

In the 10K classic, Hamilton was edged by Alaskan Matthew Johnson by 10 seconds. Meanwhile, AVSC teammate Brandon Cooper finished 22nd.

The next day, in the 10K skate ” Hamilton’s forte ” Hamilton skated to his first national title with a 20-second margin over Dominic Henriques of Tahoe City, Calif. “Simi had a phenomenal race on a hilly, steep course,” said Brown. “Coming from altitude he was able to keep a fast pace going.”

Aspen’s Cooper turned in a solid result as well, finishing 10th among the J-1s. “Simi and Brandon’s training together has pushed both of them forward,” said Brown.

Hamilton is now also prequalified for the 2004 Junior Olympics, slated for the first week of March in Lake Placid, N.Y., and his top results also landed him on the U.S. World Junior Team as an alternate.

On the flip side, Hamilton’s recent success means he will not be able to defend his Colorado state titles for Aspen High School.

The two-time (out of two tries) state freestyle champ, and last year’s classic and freestyle champ, will miss this year’s high school state championships because he will not be able to race in enough prior events to qualify. Last year, Jenny Hamilton, who missed high school qualifiers while traveling with the U.S. Scandinavian Cup team as an AHS senior, had to watch from the sidelines as the AHS girls won a fourth straight state title.

Ward pressing on

Aspen’s Casey Ward also traveled to the U.S. Nationals and recorded an impressive 11th-place finish in the 10K classic race. While Hamilton was racing in the J-1 division, Ward, an AHS and University of Colorado-Boulder graduate, was racing against the nation’s elite nordic athletes, including the U.S. Ski Team.

Ward is hoping to make the U.S. national team.

“He had a very strong race and it’s a definite indicator that he has the necessary potential,” said Brown.

Ward, who is sponsored in part by AVSC, continues to race on the Nor-Am circuit. His next stop was Mount Itasca, Minnesota.