Simi Hamilton claims historic victory | ParkRecord.com

Simi Hamilton claims historic victory

Tom Kelly, Park Record Columnist

It seems like every time a journalist writes about the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team it’s about personal bests and new U.S. records. It’s left American Nordic aficionados scrambling in the middle of the night to find a TV signal on the web and scanning Twitter for the latest insights. But last week’s freestyle sprint stage World Cup win by Aspen’s Simi Hamilton was truly one for the ages.

Simi grew up in the alpine resort town of Aspen to parents who were passionate about cross country skiing mother Ruth had him on a ski leash before he was two. A mainstay in USSA races growing up in the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, and later at Middlebury College, Simi grabbed a spot on the 2010 Olympic Team and has been a mainstay on the World Cup since then.

But little could prepare him for what happened in the tiny village of Lenzerheide, Switzerland, a week ago. Stage three of the seven-stop Tour de Ski came to the picturesque Swiss village for the first time. It was a place that just felt right.

"It was a very cool day to say the least maybe the coolest one I’ve ever had," he laughed. "I had a really good feeling about everything throughout the entire day. I just decided to go for it every time I stepped up to the start line."

Athletes tend to develop that innate sense a "will to win." Simi Hamilton had it that day through hard, aggressive skiing as well as a refined, tactical approach in the final heats. He qualified first, just ahead of teammate Andy Newell in second. He advanced easily to the semi-finals but had to survive a photo finish and move on to the championship round as a "lucky loser." In the final round, he changed his tactic to conserve energy, looking for a safe spot to pass coming into the finish where he beat friend and rival Alex Harvey of Canada by .32 seconds.

In the hub bub of the holiday week, some may have missed Simi’s achievement. But as word floated around the globe, texts and emails came pouring through to Switzerland. Not only was it the first U.S. men’s win on the eight-year-old Tour de Ski. It was the first time an American had won at that level since Bill Koch’s final victory in the pre-Olympic 30k in Sarajevo in 1983 over 30 years ago!

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Still a hero to cross country skiers across America, the 1976 Olympic silver medalist in the 30k is the sport’s icon. While Simi hadn’t even been born at the time of Koch’s last win, he knew well the company that he was now in.

It was a poignant scene in the Swiss Village after the race as Harvey and Hamilton grabbed their respective national flags and paraded through the finish. Canada and the USA one-two in a Tour de Ski stage: now that was something special.

One of the most experienced communications professionals in skiing, Tom Kelly is a veteran of eight Olympics and serves as vice president, Communications, for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. A Wisconsin native, he and his wife Carole Duh have lived in Park City since 1988 when he’s not traveling the world with the team.