AYF Olympics: Gold Medallists Keep Family Traditions Alive

PROVIDENCE, R.I.—When it comes to track prowess at these Olympics games, just keep it in the family.

That’s the way it seems these days with a new crop taking control while parents remain in the background cheering them on.

They are athletes like Brandon Aylaian, one of the better distance runners in Massachusetts, who made his debut here in Providence by winning the 1600 and 3200-meter races in rather effortless fashion, only to stumble a bit in the 800, preventing a high scorer’s trophy.

And others like Lynne and Stephen Tutunjian, Providence sibling athletes, who each cracked a record while their parents wallowed with pride.

Or another Varadian gold medalist—a fourth generation no less—with Emily taking the high jump for Providence

And wasn’t that Andrew Hintlian who turned the tables on teammate Aylaian in the 800 while his gold-studded Dad Fred cheered on the sidelines?

Yes, nothing seems to bring a family closer together than an AYF Olympics and it was quite apparent over Labor Day.

Aylaian came here with most impressive credentials. The 17-year-old senior out of Nashoba Regional in Bolton is the real deal when it comes to distances. Savor these top times: 3200 (9:24), 1600 (4:23), and 800 (1:58).

Not only that, Brandon took eighth at Nike Outdoors Nationals with a whopping 15:13.7 in the 5000 meters in North Carolina this past June. He runs 14-16 miles a day and hopes to get the mile time down to 4:15 before he graduates.

Already, 65 colleges are after him, especially Ivy Leagues. Brandon is also a top-notch student.

“The passion he has for this is nothing like I ever experienced,” said his Dad Doug, a 74-point scorer for Boston during the 1980’s. Doug’s expertise was the sprints and he was high scorer twice.

“Brandon’s goal is the Olympics,” added the father. “Two sisters and a younger brother are also runners and hopefully, they’ll all grow involved.”

These days Doug Aylaian is the director of a medical software company and enjoys running for pleasure.

“When Brandon wants to run together, I’ll take my bike,” he smiled. “That way I can keep up with him.”

Tutunjian cracked the triple jump record with a leap of 45’6″, leading a Providence medal sweep in that event. That broke the mark of 44’11.5″ previously set by Boston’s Serop Der Bogosian in 1971. Tutunjian was also golden in the long jump (20’8″).

No sooner had he prevailed in two events when off he went back to college where he started classes on Labor Day.

Stephen is a sophomore engineering major and a member of the track team at Lehigh University. Last year he was named to the Patriot League Track and Field Academic Honor Roll with a 3.4 GPA. As a freshman, he placed sixth at the Patriot League Indoor Championships in the triple jump and eighth in the long jump.

He was also on the 4×100 relay team at the Penn Relays and Outdoor League Championships. His personal bests are 46’7″ in the triple jump and 22’2″ in the long jump.

Earlier, his sister Lynne captured three gold medals in the pool and set a 50-yard breast stroke record (34.80) that was 23 years old.

There to cheer them on were their parents Bob and Shooshan (Kassabian), the latter fourth on the all-time women’s scoring list with 105.5 points.

This also marked the first year of a fourth-generation participant. Emily Varadian from Providence took first place in the high jump and fourth in the triple jump while her family watched with pride, including grandfather Michael.

It was also the first time someone had a daughter (Sara) and son (Armen) compete with their granddaughter.

Armen Varadian was entered in the pentathlon after having Achilles tendon surgery in March following an injury in the AYF National Basketball Tournament. Had he not fouled four times in the discus, he may have found himself on the medal stand.

Varadian also chose to jog with injured teammate Ari Nalbandian (hamstring) in the pent 1600—just to keep him company in his very last AYF race.

“Ari later told me that was the greatest thing anybody had ever done for him,” said Mike Varadian, who was coaching the pent athletes. “Armen didn’t make a big deal out of it and felt it was the right thing for him to do. Ari had worked so hard to be ready.”


Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.

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