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Sammy Smith and John Steel Hagenbuch Win Prestigious Awards
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Sammy Smith simply didn’t let up on the gas pedal this season, winning her the National Olympic Women’s Gold Rush Award and the Stifel U.S. Cross Country Ski Team’s Rookie of the Year award.
   
Thursday, May 2, 2024
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

Sun Valley Nordic racers John Steel Hagenbuch and Sammy Smith have been named Rookies of the Year by the Stifel U.S. Cross Country Ski Team.

And Sammy Smith has been awarded the Gold Rush Award from the Nordic Olympic Women (NOW).

The Gold Rush Award is given to an athlete competing on the World Cup who demonstrates outstanding qualities of grit and grace throughout the year. An illustrious group of past recipients were tasked with choosing this year’s recipient. They are Rosie Brennan, Jessie Diggins, Novie McCabe, Sadie Maubet Bjornsen, Sophie Caldwell Hamilton and Julia Kern.

Sammy Smith was their clear choice, they said.

“Sammy emerged not only as a World Cup regular athlete this season at the young age of 18, but a core supportive and enthusiastic member of our World Cup team,” Julie Kern wrote on behalf of the group. “We are proud to recognize not only some of her career best results this season, but her grit and grace in tackling any challenge put in front of her with the humblest attitude. This season Sammy achieved her best World Junior result with a Silver Medal and eight top 30 results on the World Cup.”

If you met Sammy for the first time, you would not guess that she is only 18 with her maturity and lived experiences thus far in her career, Kern added. After qualifying for sprint heats in her first period of racing on World Cup last season, she raced most of the World Cup circuit this season while simultaneously juggling high school and her soccer ball (quite literally) for her U20 U.S. National Soccer Team and Stanford team preparation.

“Sammy handled the pressure of racing on the highest cross country ski level, balancing school and soccer, traveling to a new country every week, all while being incredibly thoughtful and a present teammate,” Kern wrote.

“She was always the first one to offer help to anyone needing an extra hand, join for a team jog, or try out group tactics with teammates during race preparation. On the tough days, Sammy brought her positive energy to lift up the spirits and introduced soccer juggling circles to change up the monotony of life on the road for the team. Even on personally frustrating days, Sammy used her grit to turn her frustration into a learning opportunity on how she could improve next time, never making excuses or blaming anyone but herself. Sammy handled traveling on the road at a young age with such grace and poise, a teammate we knew we could always count on. Her grit and grace inspire us to believe we can chase after multiple dreams and always be present for the team. “ 

Sammy Smith grew up training with the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, with Chris Mallory her SVSEF Gold Team coach.

“We are very proud of Sammy and it is a great honor to have her in the Sun Valley Nordic community,” added Betsy Youngman, a Sun Valley resident who competed with the U.S. Nordic Ski Team in the 1988 and 1992 Winter Olympics.

The Stifel U.S. Ski Team awarded Sun Valley skiers Sammy Smith and John Steel Hagenbuch its Stifel Awards ROOKIE OF THE YEAR Awards. The awards were nominated and voted on by team members and staff. They include a monetary prize.

Sammy Smith tied with Haley Brewster for rookie of the Year.

John Steel Hagenbuch, who grew up racing for the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation and now is on the Nordic team at Dartmouth College, skied to his first career top 15 finish at the World Cup in Ostersund, Sweden, in December. He won a National Championship in a 20k race and a 7.5 K NCAA championship. He also won a bronze medal in the U23 World Championship sprint race in Steamboat Springs in March.

Sammy Smith started the 2023-24 season off on a good note when she skied to victory at three of the four SuperTour races in Anchorage, Alaska. She spent the rest of the winter on the world stage, scoring a World Cup top 30 distance performance at the Tour de Ski.

She became the first American woman to earn a Junior Sorlds medal in a spring race, taking silver at the Junior World ski Championships in Planica, Slovenia. That made her the first individual American woman medalist since Hailey Swirbul in 2018. . She also skied the fastest time in her leg at the World Juniors Mixed Team Relay, moving Team USA from eighth to third place.

Haley Brewster, whom she tied with, won her first national championship at the US National Championship 20K in Soldier Hollow, Utah, in January.  And she got a World Championship silver medal at the World U23 Ski Championship 20K in Planica, Slovenia in February.

ATHLETE OF THE YEAR went to Jessie Diggins and Gus Schumacher. Diggins won her second career World Cup overall Crystal Globe, making her only one of two Americans to win the Overall honor, the other being Bill Koch in 1981-82. After bringing a World Cup race to her home state of Minnesota, she won her first American Birkebeiner one week later.

Schumacher won his first career World Cup at the race in Minneapolis.

MOST IMPROVED awards went to Sophia Laukli and Zanden McMullen.

BEST COMEBACK went to Rosie Brennan and Gus Schumacher. Brennan became the second American ross-country skier to win back-to-back World Cup races in 2020, nine years after Kikkan Randall did it in 2011. She finished the season fifth in the overall World Cup leaderboard.

Schumacher became the first American man to win a World Junior Championship distance race in the 2020 Championships in Oberwiesenthal, Germany, but struggled the next few seasons until he became the first American man since Bill Koch to win a distance race at the World Cup in Minneapolis.

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