Local Nordic Racer Simi Hamilton sets his sights on the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea. We think he can, and we think he will. Read the full story at Aspen Daily News.
At the time of year when most elite skiers are ready to dig their heels into the sand after a long season of snow and cold, Aspen native Simi Hamilton was well-ensconced in Fairbanks, Alaska, where midwinter conditions reigned for the final “SuperTour” races of 2016-17.
As the most successful male skier on the U.S. Ski Team’s cross-country team this year, Hamilton, 29, finished ranked as the ninth-fastest sprinter in the world, up from 10th in 2015-16.
“The better an athlete gets, the harder it is to find areas to improve, but with Simi, both he and I agree that he can contend for the sprint globe in the next two years,” his coach, Matt Whitcomb, said Saturday by email. “He wants to be the best sprinter in the world.
“He can be that guy.”
Hamilton said by phone recently that his steady progression could bode well in terms of timing, after seven years on the national team.
Next year, an Olympic season, “is undoubtedly what we’re all aiming for,” he said, while also noting that there are about 20 regular World Cup races that, too, are important.
While known more for his sprinting, one of Hamilton’s primary goals is to improve his distance racing, he said.
“This is a key piece to the puzzle of becoming the best sprinter in the world,” Whitcomb said. “The eight guys ahead of Simi on the world ranking list are doing this, and it undoubtedly plays a role in their longevity through four rounds of sprinting in a day.”
What also helps is the post-graduate training environment in Stratton, Vt., where Hamilton has lived the past four years during the non-competition months. There, he’s paced by his girlfriend, U.S. Ski Team member Sophie Caldwell, and Hamilton’s teammate, veteran Andy Newell. Both are part of the eight-member club SMST2 that supports elite racing.
Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, where Hamilton developed his skills, does not currently have a post-graduate Nordic program, as it directs its resources to juniors.
Hamilton was originally an alpine ski racer with AVSC before switching to cross-country racing at the age of 13, where he found almost immediate success.
“For me, as a sprinter, it’s important to be training with other people who are pushing me every day,” Hamilton said in response to a question about why he wasn’t based in Aspen during the off-season.
The grandson of D.R.C. Brown, the influential former president and general manager of Aspen Skiing Corp., the family’s Aspen roots stretch back to the late 19th-century mining days.
“I still feel so supported by everyone in Aspen. Whenever I come home and attend an event, it feels just like going back to my home club,” he said. Hamilton’s family still live in Aspen.
Huge crowds in Europe, Canada
An early-season illness upended Hamilton’s plan for the year, putting him about a month behind schedule by December.
But the new year brought better health and some decent results, and on Jan. 18, Hamilton skied to a silver medal in the skate sprint in Toblach, Italy. The margin of victory was just 3/100ths of a second, about 3 centimeters.
Feeling in fine form as he approached the World Championships — the biennial event in off-Olympic seasons — Hamilton skied to eighth place in Estonia.
But soft snow and crossed tips were part of a disappointing World Championships in Lahti, Finland, where the races have a tradition dating back to 1926. A quarter-million spectators were expected to watch the 12 days of the event.
On March 17, at the FIS Cross Country World Cup Finals in Quebec City (when Aspen was consumed with the alpine World Cup Finals), and in front of what were reported to be thousands of fans in downtown Quebec City who cheered on Canadian Alex Harvey to victory, Hamilton took fourth in a sprint race.
He admitted that a tactical error, where he “messed up” in the final 100 meters of a 1.6k race, probably kept him from the podium.
Whitcomb said that next season, he and Hamilton have agreed on consistency being key if the racer wants to meet his goals.
In the final SuperTour races that closed Sunday in Fairbanks, Hamilton’s best finish was 10th in the skiathlon, which involved 12 kilometers of classic skiing, followed by a change of skis, and then 12 kilometers of sprinting.
“We’ll find ways in this next season to improve the strike rate on making the top 10,” Whitcomb said.