Sports

Olympic dreams for Hammond

Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Islander Courtney Hammond races for the United States’ National ski team.  -
Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Islander Courtney Hammond races for the United States’ National ski team.
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The year 2006 was one to remember for a young ski racer from Mercer Island, who is now taking the skills she acquired in the Cascade Mountains across the globe.

0n May 3, 2006, just days before her 19th birthday, Courtney Hammond was named to the United States Ski Team’s Alpine Development Team — and important step on the way to the World Cup and perhaps the Olympic Games.

That news came just three months after it was announced she had made the U.S. World Juniors Team. In 2006, Hammond was ranked No. 13 by Ski Racing Magazine in its list of America’s top 100 junior ski racers. This fall the International Ski Federation (FIS) and United States Ski Association issued preseason rankings with Hammond in the top 20 in the Downhill and Super G.

The fastest speed she can remember getting clocked at was in Canada, while grinding her edges over a sheet of ice, at 75 mph.

The dedicated and enthusiastic Hammond grew up on Mercer Island, beginning the third grade at St. Monica School. The daughter of two ski racers, she started running the gates when she was 5. After one year at MIHS she made the decision to pursue her Olympic dreams. She then began training at a ski racing academy and high school in Utah.

The intensive training in Utah has carried her to some big results. Hammond just completed the fall series of the North American Cup with races throughout Canada and in Winter Park, Colo. The NorAm Cup, as it is called, is the highest-level ski racing series in North America and was created to compare with the European Cup, which hosts racers at the level preceding World Cup. If she continues racing at this level throughout the winter, she will have a good chance to move up to the U.S. C-Team, something she hopes to do. She participates in about 50 races per year. Her former coach said he thinks she could do it with some high finishes.

“Courtney was already at a high level when she came here,” said Todd Brickson, Hammond’s former coach at Rowmark Ski Academy in Utah. “She was an excellent racer for the Crystal Mountain ski team but it’s one of those things where she was a big fish in a small pond.”

Before making the national team, Hammond had dominated local ski races as a member of the Crystal Mountain ski team. In local races, from Mt. Bachelor, Ore. to Snoqualmie Pass, she had eight first place-finishes in the Slalom, Super G, Giant Slalom and Downhill from 2002 to 2004. Plus many more in races throughout the country.

“Her goal is to become a World Cup skier and race in the Olympics. She is now on the first tier of three to make that goal and she has the determination and an outstanding work ethic to continue racing for the next five to 10 years,” Brickson said.

Four other racers on the U.S. Alpine teams this year have came from that “small pond” Brickson refers to, Crystal Mountain.

Libby Ludlow, a 25-year-old from Bellevue, is a U.S. Alpine Olympian as is Scott McCartney, 28, from Redmond. Then, there is a brother-sister pair from Bellevue that came up in the Crystal team. Paul McDonald, 22, is on the U. S. B-Team and his younger sister, Jilyne, 19, made the Development Team this year with Hammond. Will Brandenburg, 19, of Spokane is on the development team also and Tom Rothrock, 28, is another Northwest Olympian skier. Looking back, twins Philip and Steven Mahre, now 49, from White Pass, Wash. in Lewis County, won the Gold and Silver medals, respectively, in the slalom event during the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo.

Hammond hopes she can follow these tracks. Like three others from Crystal, she has been accepted to Dartmouth College in Vermont but decided to postpone enrollment the last two years to develop as a racer.

“Getting to race at a higher level will be the most fantastic part of being on this team,” Hammond said during some races at Lake Louise, Canada in early December. “I’m looking forward to my next race, which will be my first one this year when I feel like I am in good health. I plan to just go out and do my best.”

After finishing two important races in Canada in mid-December, her mother, Maureen, picked her up in Alberta, Canada and they drove back to the Island just in time to miss the power outage.

Hammond, home briefly for the holiday, said the downside to all the traveling is the “luggage lifestyle” and the time spent away from home.

“It’s like one thing after another,” Hammond said of her life on the road. “I just unpacked my bag and did my laundry, just so I could re-pack my bag. It’s my way of life now, I’m definitely not used to putting stuff into drawers anymore.”

The break provided Hammond with her first week-long rest at home for Christmas since leaving for Utah in 2003. She said it was nice to flop down on the couch at home for once, but her rest was short-lived because of the holiday. Plus, it was her first chance to ski her beloved home resort in three years.

“Because I had to do so much Christmas shopping right when I got back the first few days weren’t very relaxing,” Hammond said. “After getting that done, I laid around on the couch for two days and then I went skiing.”

Before the racing began this winter Hammond suffered an ankle injury in late September. Then, she picked up a cough that turned out to be bronchitis, making it too difficult to race in the high altitudes at Winter Park, Colo.

The injury and illness have Hammond feeling a little behind the others on the development squad but have provided her the time to master her new hobby.

“The toughest has been watching from the sidelines,” Hammond said. “I missed two races because of it now but you have to learn from it. It helps you develop mentally. But it feels like I’m just stuck over there on the side.”

Lately, Hammond has taught herself how to crochet in her spare time and because of the injury she had enough time to finish herself a green and white sweater vest that she wore around the house on her break.

“Now I’ve got the whole team to do it and we’re like a bunch of grandmas sitting around the fire when we’re not training,” Hammond said.

Hammond has rejoined the sewing circle in the East after leaving the Island on Dec. 28 for a race in Maine that marks the beginning of the rest of the season and another hopeful year for this young Islander.

“Top Five” Finishes: 2005-2006 season

Feb. 12, 2006

Fifth place in Downhill at NorAm Cup at Big Mountain, Mont.

May 28, 2005

Second place in Slalom at the Golden Rose at Timberline, Ore.

Dec. 18, 2005

Third place in Slalom at the Rocky Mountain Trophy Series at Steamboat Springs, Colo.

May 29, 2005

Second place in the Giant Slalom at Golden Rose at Timberline, Ore.

NorAm Cup Schedule

Jan. 3-6 Quebec

Feb 4-5 Apex, British Columbia

Feb. 8-16 Big Mountain, Mont.

Mar. 14-18 Panorama, British Columbia (Finals)

Northwest Best:

Mar. 5, 2004

First place in Slalom at the J2 National Olympics at Timberline, Ore.

Dec. 12, 2003

First place in Slalom at the Webb Moffet Cup at Snoqualime Pass.

April 18, 2003

Second place in Giant slalom, fourth place in Super G at NW Cup Finals at Mt. Bachelor, Ore.

Mar. 3, 2003

First place in Giant Slalom at the No Bull at Crystal Mountain, Wash.

April 13, 2002

First Place in Slalom at NW Cup finals at Brundage Mountain, Idaho.

Feb. 25, 2002

First place in Downhill at Sun Cup USSA at Mt. Bachelor, Ore.

Feb. 20, 2002

First place in Super G at Sun Cup USSA at Mt. Bachelor, Ore.

Feb. 18, 2002

First place in Slalom at Jr, Olympics at Mt. Hood Meadows, Ore.

Feb. 17, 2002

First place in Giant Slalom at Jr. Olympics at Mt. Hood Meadows, Ore.

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