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Two Vermont Teenagers Win Top Honors At U.S. National Ski Championships

Fred Bever
Nina O'Brien, from Burke Mountain Academy, stands on the podium at Sugarloaf holding an inscribed hatchet - a symbol of her victory in both the junior and adult women's giant slalom course.

Green Mountain Valley School graduate Drew Duffy and Burke Mountain Academy senior Nina O'Brien won top honors at the U.S. National Ski Championships in Maine this week. The Vermont teenagers upset older competitors, and they're aiming for more glory. 

Nina O’Brien’s big day started at the top of Sugarloaf’s Narrow Gauge trail Thursday, with a strong push from the gate, and it ended on the podium outside the base lodge.

It was her second trip to the podium because, as the fastest woman on the giant slalom course, she won both the junior title and the adult title. No medals for this win, though – Sugarloaf winners are presented with an inscribed hatchet – so O’Brien clutched two.

“I didn’t expect this today so I’m really happy. Lot of fast girls skiing today so I’m really happy to have won,” says O’Brien.

Looking on from the crowd was her friend Drew Duffy – a 19-year-old from Warren who, the day before, bombed down the Super G course to take the men’s national championship.

While O’Brien was ranked as a contender from the start, Duffy came from the clouds to steal the win from two-time World Cup downhill champion Steven Nyman.

At the top it was a bit of a wild ride, but he held on. Duffy says he was amazed that he gained the edge over Nyman, one of his heroes. He adds that his comfort with New England-style slopes may have helped – he got his skiing start as a 10-year-old, as a weekend warrior on the rugged terrain of Mad River Glen.

Credit Fred Bever / VPR
Drew Duffy's mom, Betsy, cheers her son on at Sugarloaf. She says that skiing is a tough career and she hopes college is in the future for the young athlete.

Duffy’s budding career is clearly a family affair. His mother Betsy Duffy is at Sugarloaf to cheer him on – even as she tries to keep at least one foot planted on the ground. “This is a tough career, hopefully college is part of the future. We really don’t know where next year will take him,” she says.

U.S. Ski Team CEO Tiger Shaw says he’s impressed by the Vermonters’ performances this week, and the team will invest in helping them move up the ranks. “In this sport it’s dog eat dog and it’s day by day and year by year,” he says. “So will they be great ski racers next year? I certainly would bet heavily on that. And we are going to help them become the very best racers they can be. Because it’s kids like this that have achieved this at this age, they’re the ones that are going to be our future.”

"In this sport it's dog eat dog and it's day by day and year by year. So will they be great ski racers next year? I certainly would bet heavily on that." - U.S. Ski Team CEO Tiger Shaw

Drew Duffy did not place in the men’s Giant Slalom race Friday. But he skied well, and he and Nina O’Brien each still have another national race this weekend, where they plan to make some more noise.

O’Brien could be speaking for both of them when she talks about her goals. “Well hopefully I’ll make the U.S. Ski team and keep skiing fast,” she says.

Fast enough, both teenagers hope, to make it to the World Cup and, in 2018, the Olympics.

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