Simi Hamilton during a cross-country sprint at the Winter Games New Zealand in 2011

When Simi Hamilton walks into Victoria’s Café on a quiet fall afternoon, he isn’t three feet past the door before someone calls his name. “This is our future Olympic gold medalist, Simi Hamilton,” an older woman says, introducing the young athlete to one of her friends. With his broad face, wide smile, and athletic build, he already looks the part; it’s easy to imagine his visage on a Wheaties box.

At 25, Hamilton is poised to hit his peak as a medal contender in the freestyle-sprint event at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Born and raised in Aspen, he began skiing at age 2. By the time he was 13, he was a standout Nordic athlete in the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club. By 18, he’d swept nine junior national championship titles and three Colorado high school state championship titles. He went on to Middlebury College in Vermont, where he raced Division 1, earning three top-10 finishes in the NCAA championships. In 2010 Hamilton was selected for the United States Olympic Team and competed in the Vancouver Olympics, where he placed 29th in the classic sprint.

“It takes a long time to develop into a racer,” he explains. “It has very little to do with natural talent or genetics.”

Hamilton’s family legacy is just as fascinating: His great-grandfather, D.R.C. Brown Sr., was one of Aspen’s first pioneers, arriving in 1880 by covered wagon. His grandfather, D.R.C. Brown Jr., was the president of Aspen Skiing Company for 22 years and helped place Aspen on the map as a world-class ski destination. His grandmother, Ruth Brown, was the namesake for Ruthie’s Run on Aspen Mountain and one of the town’s most prolific philanthropists. Hamilton’s father, Skip, is a competitive ultra-runner. His mother, Ruthie, is also a competitive marathoner, and it was the family’s dedication to fitness and a healthy lifestyle that influenced Hamilton’s path toward Nordic skiing.

In fact, with his good looks and youthful energy, Hamilton could single-handedly raise the hip factor of cross-country skiing during this next Olympics.

“When people think of cross-country skiing, they think of old people with wooden skis and bamboo poles,” he says, “But it takes a crazy amount of balance and skill. People don’t recognize how hard it is.”

Still, Nordic skiing is an underdog’s sport, especially in terms of televised coverage and sponsor dollars. Fortunately, the community that Hamilton’s family helped build is indeed giving back. With his sights set on Russia in 2014, he hopes to repay them by bringing home gold.

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