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Q&A with Simi Hamilton

Team USA's Simi Hamilton poses in studio with cross-country skis
NBCUniversal

Q&A with Simi Hamilton

Simi Hamilton is always looking for a new adventure on snow, surf or stone

Where did you grow up?    
Aspen, Colorado

What is your earliest memory of cross-country skiing?    
I remember going crust skiing up Independence Pass when I was about 8 years old with my parents and some friends. The spring time crust had set up perfectly, allowing us to skate miles and miles in any direction over passes and down valleys. Above tree line, the rolling terrain was like a natural terrain park that we played on for several hours.

What is your first memory of watching the Olympics? 
I remembered watching Bjorn Dahlie (a Norwegian ski racer who is still considered one of the greatest of all time) on our TV during the Lillehammer Olympic races. There were 200,000 fans at each of those races, and I remember getting chills from how electric that atmosphere was. That feeling hooked me to ski racing and I knew that I wanted to race at the Olympics some day.

Do you remember a “breakthrough” moment in your cross-country career when you realized you could make it to the Olympic Games?
When I was 16 I travelled to Estonia to race at the Scandinavian Cup against all the best 16 and 17 year olds from the powerhouse ski nations like Norway, Sweden, and Finland. I was 3rd in the sprint that year, and after earning that result I knew that I could ski with the best in the world.

Within the cross-country world, who has had the biggest impact on you?    
My coach, Matt Whitcomb. 10 years ago, Matt said something to me that led me to believe I could be one of the best in the world in our sport. I never stopped believing that and it has come true. He continues to believe in me, which, in turn, allows me to believe in what I know I am capable of achieving.

Did anyone ever try to dissuade you from pursuing your goals in cross-country?
Nope. Everyone I have met along my journey has been nothing but supportive.

How much time do you spend training each day?
In the summer, usually 4-5 hours/day. In the winter only about 2-3 hrs/day.

What’s the most out of the ordinary workout you do to train for cross-country ski racing?
I ride my mountain bike a ton for training, and in the spring, which is usually a time when ski racers take lots of rest, I spend the majority of my time backcountry skiing (sometimes up to 10 hours/day).

How much sleep do you need to feel your best?
Usually 10-11 hours

What’s the most grueling workout you’ve ever done?
The longest workout I've ever done was a traverse of the major summits in the Teton Range, Wyoming. It included Mt. Teewinot, Mt. Owen, the Grand Teton, Middle Teton, South Teton and Nez Perce. It took 19 hours and I was definitely pretty beat by the end. 

More ski specific training sessions include doing the Presidential Traverse in 6 hours in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the 4 Pass Loop in the Maroon Bells Wilderness in about 6 hours. Both runs are about 28 miles long.

What are some of your favorite workout songs?
“Daughter” by Pearl Jam, “Enter Sandman” by Metallica, “Old Thing Back” by Notorious B.I.G., “Something From Nothing” and “Walk” by The Foo Fighters.

What is your favorite perk of being an Olympic athlete?    
Normal, everyday people that you meet outside of training or racing are always really psyched to talk to you and hear your story because you're an Olympian.

Do you have another full-time job or business?
I train full time but I am currently trying to figure out a way to begin online studying to get my masters in snow science.

What do you think you would be doing if you were not competing in cross-country ski racing?
I'd like to be an avalanche forecaster in the Elk Mountains of Colorado.

Are there any misconceptions about cross-country skiing you would like to clear up?
In sprint racing, drafting and terrain tactics are critical. Knowing where to time a surge or get through a gap between other skiers takes lots of experience and trial and error.

What’s the coolest, weirdest or most intense thing about cross-country skiing that people typically miss?
On fast downhills we'll sometimes hit 55 mph on our race skis. The hardest part of our sport is developing the mental fortitude to go out there and push ourselves through intense pain for the duration of a sprint round (3 minutes) or a 50 km (2+ hours).

Are you superstitious?
I'm not a very superstitious person, but I always do the same stretching routine when I am in the start lane just before I start any race.

What is your biggest fear when competing?
Not capitalizing on an opportunity that is presented to me. Fortunately, the only person that can control that is me, so it is always up to me whether I want to capitalize or not.

Do you have any specific pre-race rituals?
Wake up 4 hours before a race, eat 3 hours before, and start testing skis 1.5 hours before my start.

What about after the race, how do you like to unwind?
I like to watch an episode or two of “The Daily Show.”

What’s something people would be surprised to learn about being an elite cross-country skier?
As a sprinter, I spend very little time in the summer actually "sprinting". Summer training season is mostly about building a fitness base with easy effort, high volume training and most of the interval workouts I do are not harder than threshold intensity.

Who is your most interesting teammate and why?
Jessie Diggins is a pretty amazing and unique person/teammate. She is more driven than anyone I've ever met, and her ability to push through pain during training and racing is unmatched by anyone in the XC ski world. She handles expectations and pressure better than anyone else I know.

Do you hang out with anyone on the U.S. team?
Well, my girlfriend, Sophie Caldwell, is also on the national team, so it's fair to say I spend most of my time with her.

One of my closest friends on our team is Erik Bjornsen. He's an incredible guy. He works harder than anyone I now, he's one of the funniest dudes I know, and he's always good at looking at everything in the big picture.

Who are your biggest rivals? Is it friendly or contentious?
I don't really have any rivals unless I'm playing my teammate Erik Bjornsen in pool. We're usually pretty equal in skill, and because we are both very competitive, we'll find ourselves playing hours and hours of pool if we ever stay somewhere that has a table.

Who is your Olympic role model?
[U.S. biathlete] Lowell Bailey. He's one of the nicest and most humble people I know or have ever met. Everything he does and says has purpose and has a positive impact on himself and everyone around him.

What athlete in any sport has inspired you the most?
[Environmentalist] Bill McKibben has always been one of my biggest role models. Although he was never a serious ski racer, his passion for skiing and being outside is what drives him to be the man that he is off of the ski trails. He is one of the toughest, most determined, and genuine people in the fight for environmental activism and climate change education and reform.

Are you involved with any organizations related to conservation?
I am an ambassador for Protect Our Winters (POW). I became involved with them because I think there is a dire need to educate my peers as well as the next generation of skiers and riders about the impacts of climate change on not only winter sports but the health of our global environment, and what actions we can take to combat the problems we've created and the direction we're headed if we don't do anything about it.

What else do you like to do when you’re not cross-country skiing?
I'm teaching myself to play the guitar. I'm not very good (yet) but I really enjoy how it slows me down and makes me work hard towards something that is very different that ski racing. I'm pretty self conscious about my playing, so the only person I'll practice in front of is my girlfriend.

Have you been to South Korea? What are you excited to experience in PyeongChang?
We raced there for a few World Cups this last season. That's the only time I've been there. It's a beautiful country that reminds me a lot of New England with its rolling hills and lots of Birch trees. I'm especially excited that we'll be staying in the main village next year. I think being so close to so many events besides just skiing will be really cool.

Do you have any personal connections to South Korea?
I have an adopted cousin from South Korea.

What will success look like for you in PyeongChang?
I am aiming to win a medal in the individual classic sprint and the skate team sprint.

Karaoke is popular in South Korea. Would you sing if asked to get on stage?    
Not much of a singer, but one time one of my best friends made me sing the song from Titanic as a joke. It was fairly embarrassing.

Have you ever tried Korean food?
I love Kimchi and am a big fan of their noodles.

If you are to indulge, what’s your favorite food, snack or dessert? 
Big burger with locally sourced meat, seasoned French fries, and a draft IPA. Piece of chocolate cake for dessert.

Are you into any other sports besides cross-country?
I'll jump into a mountain bike race every now and then, or a mountain running race. For recreation outside of ski racing, I love to climb, kayak, surf and backcountry ski.

Do you have any nicknames?
Most people call me Simi or Sim. I'm not sure how Simeon got shortened to Simi, but virtually no one who knows me calls me by my full name.

Do you have any special tattoos?
I have a few tattoos. The first one is on the left side of my chest. It's an infinity knot that reminds me everything and everyone is interwoven in some way. My second tattoo is on the underside of my right bicep. It's a circle with three lines through it that I got with two of my best friends. It doesn't mean anything significant except that we are all a big part of each other's lives and forever will be. My third tattoo is a mountain-scape of the Ragged Mountains in Colorado. My family has a backcountry cabin at the base of Chair Mountain and I spend most of my spring there skiing those peaks. For lack of a better way to describe it, it's my "happy place".

Are you a fan of any professional sports teams?
I like to watch hockey because I played a ton of pond hockey growing up and I think it's one of the most demanding team sports there is. I really look up to Sidney Crosby because not only is he extremely talented and works hard, he's a stand up guy who is professional and respected.

Do you have any hidden talents?
I'm pretty good at tying a whole bunch of different climbing knots.

What is your favorite social media platform?
Instagram because I really like to tell a story just using a great photo. And I think people prefer to see someone's story or emotion rather than reading about it.

What’s something quirky about yourself that people would be amused to learn?
If I'm about to see someone that I haven't seen in a long time, I'll run through a mock conversation between them and me beforehand. But sometimes I forget to just keep the conversation in my head and I'll start actually talking out loud as if I am both myself and the other person. My girlfriend and my family members have caught me doing this on several occasions.

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