Nordic ski racer Simi Hamilton is one of the fastest sprinters in the United States. He clocks speeds up to 55 miles per hour when he flies across snowy courses. Since he was named to the U.S. Ski Team in 2010, he’s done well both nationally and in World Cup races. Now, Hamilton is training to make the 2014 Winter Olympic team. Aspen Public Radio's Marci Krivonen caught up with the Aspen native during some rare downtime.
"This time of year we’re generally just preparing for our first races by just doing mostly dry land stuff," says Hamilton.
“Dryland stuff” is training off of snow, like running, mountain biking and roller skiing on pavement. Members of the U.S. Nordic Team train about 800 hours a year. Races in Norway and Finland kick off later this year. And, they’ll determine who gets to go to Sochi.
"Starting in three weeks it’ll be game on to be performing every weekend for about five months straight."
Hamilton grew up skiing in Aspen. From the age of two, he was on skis with his mother carefully guiding him down the mountain. He joined the local ski club and began competing at age 13.
Hamilton leapt to the world stage after graduating from Middlebury College in Vermont. He scored points in his first-ever World Cup race and made the 2010 Olympic team right out of school.
In the Vancouver Olympics, Hamilton took 29th overall. For the upcoming Olympics, he says he’s expecting an even bigger challenge.
"The sprint course in Sochi is, hand’s down, the hardest course I’ve ever seen. It’s extremely long and it has two massive climbs in it, so it should be really fun," he says.
The course sits at 5000 feet, which is a tough elevation for other athletes. But, Hamilton says training in high-altitude Aspen gives him an edge.
"I think I’ll be coming into it with an advantage of just being a little more comfortable, having grown up at such a high elevation."
Marci: "Do you expect him to go to the Olympics?"
Jason: "So the team is named on January 12th, but if I was a betting man, I’d say, yes! He’s been to the Olympics before, he’s been one of our very good producing skiers."
That's Jason Cork. He coaches Hamilton for the U.S. Ski Team. Because of his success on the World Cup stage, Cork says Hamilton has a good chance of making one of four slots in the men's Olympic sprint event.
"He is very fast and very strong, as are the other guys on the team. He’s just had a lot of success from when he was young," says Cork.
Nordic countries like Norway and Finland have traditionally dominated the sport of cross country skiing. It’s partly due history. The first competitions were between Norwegian army units. And, funding is also a factor. In some cases, governments pay for Nordic programs. In the U.S., the United States Ski and Snowboard Association raises money.
In the 2010 Winter Olympics, Russian and Norwegian athletes took home medals in the men’s individual sprint event. In Europe, Hamilton says Nordic skiers are just as popular as basketball players in the U.S.
"In Europe, cross country racing is one of the biggest sports, especially in Scandinavia, and you go to a World Cup or world championships event up there, and you get 200,000 people out, watching one race," Hamilton says.
He says the popularity of cross country skiing is gaining momentum in the United States due to the success of some athletes. His teammate Kikkan Randall won the overall sprint world cup earlier this year and placed third overall, the highest finish ever by a U.S. woman.
"For a sport that’s been, for so long, dominated by the Norwegians, the Swedes, the Russians, the Finns and the Germans, all of a sudden we’re mentioned in the same breath. It’s pretty cool and we’re very proud of that shift that’s occurring and it’s fun to be a part of it," Hamilton says.
He describes cross country skiing as a set of movements, similar to a dance. If he performs well, over the coming months, his biggest dance of the season could be in Sochi, Russia.