Varantians come together for #41

2021 Providence Varantians (Photo: Sona Gevorkian)

By the AYF Providence “Varantian” Chapter

Unprecedented is a word that we have heard an endless number of times in the past two years, for many reasons. Clearly, there was no reason for the unprecedented times to continue, as the 2021 AYF Olympics ended up in a tie for the first time in its 87-year history. The Providence Varantians and the Greater Boston Nejdehs went toe-to-toe in just about every event, but ultimately met each other in stride at the finish line with 137 points each. Detroit finished a close third with 132 points.

This year’s Providence chapter was the closest group of members the chapter has had in many, many years. After weeks of grueling practices in the heat, rain, smoke, and fog at East Greenwich High School, the group was riding an extreme sense of camaraderie going into Labor Day Weekend. 

The Providence Varantians sent a whopping 50 athletes to the AYF Olympics this year, the most since 2015 where Providence sent 46 athletes. Of the 50 athletes, 13 were new members from within the past two years who were experiencing the Olympics for the first time:

Giovany Aktchian
Arthur Arslanyan
Gor Bagumyan
Alyssa Bailey
Mackenzie Campbell
Sophia Chevian
Ani Comella
Anahid Donoyan
George Donoyan
Nerses Donoyan
Taleen Donoyan
Emma Garabedian
Jordan Garcia
Sara Gomez
Caleb Jawharjian
Jacob Jawharjian
Koko Kassabian
Tatevik Khachatryan
Nikolas Kojoian
Mackenzi Larkin
Ellye Lennon
Sylvahna Menissian
Xavier Millett
Carrie Minassian
Paul Minassian
Rachael Minassian
Nareg Mkrtschjan
Nareh Mkrtschjan
Rosdom Mkrtschjan
Natalia Oganesian
Eliz Ohanian
Susanna Ovsepian
Vahe Ovsepian
Sophia Pereira
Eric Pjojian
Jason Pjojian
Simone Semerjian
Zach Semerjian
Zander Semerjian
Lorie Simonian
Michael Simonian
Taleen Simonian
Hagop Taraksian
Harout Tashian
Alexan Topalian
Meran Topalian
Shahan Topalian
Matt Ursillo
Maral Zobian
Sevan Zobian

This victory started about two years ago with a major effort made on recruiting for the AYF-YOARF. The chapter executive made many house visits to pull in new members to benefit from the perks of the AYF-YOARF. These new members have become model members of the AYF, attending meetings, staying active and engaged, and dedicating their time to the chapter. The most important part of the whole process was that once the members were in, the current members welcomed them in with open arms. New friendships have been made, and that was evident throughout Labor Day Weekend.

Let’s take a deep dive into the amazing athletic accomplishments of our chapter’s members at the 2021 AYF Olympics Games in Providence…

FRIDAY

TENNIS – 8 points

Starting off the weekend were the golf and tennis tournaments. Hagop Taraksian was looking to win his fifth tennis title in six years. Alongside Hagop was Jason Pjojian, who made a return to Olympics tennis after a few years away. After a quick semi-final, the championship match was a win-win situation: Providence vs. Providence. Hagop took first place for his fifth tennis title, and Jason took second, scooping up 8 points for Providence in men’s tennis. On the girl’s side, Sylvahna Menissian was looking to break the top 4 to score some points for Providence, however, the New Jersey Arsen women were simply too good to touch.

Stefan Ayanian (New Jersey), Jason Pjojian (Providence), Hagop Taraksian (Providence)

Providence Chapter total after tennis: 8 points

GOLF – 2 points

In golf, one of Providence’s newer Senior members, Sara Gomez, was taking on a tough task of beating out some veteran AYF Olympics women’s golfers. Nevertheless, Sara rose to the occasion and shot a 66, securing fourth place for Providence, scoring her first points in her Olympics career. On the men’s side, Providence was loaded with many golfers: Zander Semerjian, Alexan Topalian, Meran Topalian, and Shahan Topalian. These boys had been golfing all summer in preparation for the Friday tee-off. At the end of 18 holes, Meran was able to crack the top 4, finishing fourth overall, shooting an 84. Zander and Shahan were not far behind, both shooting an 88.

Meran Topalian (Providence), Kyle Niffin (Detroit), Alex Kassabian (New York), Aram Ouligian (Greater Boston)

Providence Chapter total after golf: 10 points

SWIMMING – 55 points

The Varantians came back with a vengeance in the swimming pool this year. They scored a whopping 55 points, just a little under half of their entire point total. 

Newcomer Natalia Oganesian was determined to make a mark at this Olympics, and she definitely did not disappoint. Cruising through the prelims, Natalia made the final for the 25 Meter Freestyle, 50 Meter Freestyle, and 25 Meter Butterfly. Going up against a very competitive swimmer from Greater Boston, Natalia was able to hold off all the competition to win three golds and High Scorer honors. Her times in the 25 Meter Freestyle (13.45 s) and 25 Meter Butterfly (14.91 s) were only 0.26 seconds and 0.69 seconds off of the AYF Olympics records, respectively. Natalia’s 15 points were a huge part of the Varantians’ path to victory.

Natalia Oganesian (Photo: Sona Gevorkian)

Another newcomer, Eliz Ohanian, put her mind to the task at hand and absolutely delivered. Swimming in her first Olympics, Eliz was able to finish third in the 100 Meter Freestyle (1:45.75), as well as first in the 50 Meter Breaststroke (48.19), winning by just 0.81 seconds. Eliz’s dedication to the Providence team showed throughout the summer, as she showed up to almost every track practice even though her main game was swimming. Eliz embodied the spirit and dedication that the AYF Olympics brings out of its members. Eliz scored 7 points, increasing the Varantian total further.

Alyssa Bailey had not competed at the AYF Olympics for a few years, but made her comeback in 2021, and was an integral part of the swimming team. Alyssa grinded out second place in the 50 Meter Backstroke, where her time of 50.78 seconds won silver by a margin of 0.22 seconds. Alyssa also finished fourth in the 25 Meter Freestyle (17.06 s), and missed out on third by only 0.31 seconds. Alyssa scored four points total.

Nareh Mkrtschjan and Alyssa Bailey (Photo: Sona Gevorkian)

The girls swim team rounded off with Nareh Mkrtschjan and Simone Semerjian, who both swam very hard in the cold water at the MacColl YMCA outdoor pool as the sun was setting. Simone went on to participate in the Women’s 4×100 Freestyle Relay, where the chapter finished in second with a time of 1:11.62 seconds, missing first place by just 0.62 seconds to the Middlesex County West chapter. 

The girls scored 29 points in the pool, pushing the Varantian total up to 39 points.

Gor Bagumyan (Photo: Sona Gevorkian)

On the boy’s side, first time athlete Gor Bagumyan did not disappoint. Gor won the 50 Meter Backstroke (35.78 s), finished second in the 50 Meter Freestyle (24.94 s) and third in the 100 Meter Freestyle (1:10.50). Gor’s scored 10 huge points, kicking the boys swimming team off to a great start.

Sevan Zobian (Photo: Sona Gevorkian)

Providence AYF veteran and executive member Sevan Zobian was competing in his last AYF Olympics in Providence, a fitting end to his 12 years competing as a Varantian. The old man still had some gas left in the tank, finishing second in the 50 Meter Breaststroke (45.34 s) and third in the 50 Meter Butterfly (47.59 s), beating fourth place by just 0.78 seconds. Sevan picked up 5 more points for his Providence team in his last hurrah at the AYF Olympics.

Rosdom Mkrtschjan was no stranger to the swimming pool, as he has competed in various swimming events at the Olympics throughout the years. Rosdom fought his hardest in the pool against the fierce competition, and was able to put together a fourth place finish in the 50 Meter Backstroke, scoring one point.

The last boys’ swimmer was Zander Semerjian, who was never a swimmer by nature, but decided to pick it up competitively in preparation for the Olympics. Zander swam the 50 Meter Freestyle, finishing 5th. While diving, Zander sliced his toe on the diving stand, however, this did not hold him back from competing in the relays, and he fought through the pain for the team. Although he did not place in any individual events, Zander was an integral part of the swimming relay teams. 

In the 200 Meter Freestyle Relay, the boys finished in 3rd place with a time of 2:30.18, losing to Greater Boston by a razor thin margin of just 0.09 seconds. The boys got their revenge in the 200 Meter Medley Relay. Rosdom kicked it off with the backstroke, and then Sevan swam the breaststroke leg, giving Gor a sizable lead to work with. This was crucial, as Greater Boston’s best swimmer was swimming the butterfly against Gor. Both men swimming the butterfly leg was an incredible sight to see, as the two best swimmers at the meet went head-to-head, stroke for stroke. Gor passed the last leg onto Zander, who took the shrunken lead and absolutely ran with it. Zander amazingly held off Greater Boston’s final swimmer by just 1.34 seconds, securing gold for the Varantian medley team, its first in the event in many years.

Lastly in the pool was the 200 Meter Mixed Relay. Gor, Sevan, Natalia and Eliz were able to put together a great performance to win silver, capping off what seemed like a Varantian swimming clinic in the pool.

Eliz Ohanian, Providence (Photo: Sona Gevorkian)

The Providence swim team collected a total of 55 points in the swimming pool, their most in recent years. Providence outscored Greater Boston 55-42 in the swim meet, and finished Friday with 65 points and a 20 point lead over Greater Boston headed into softball and the track and field meet.

Chapter president Nareg Mkrtschjan, coach Kenny Topalian and Alexan Topalian (Photo: Tamar Kanarian)

Providence Chapter total after swimming: 65 points

SATURDAY

SOFTBALL

Providence 2 softball team, 2021 (Photo: Sona Gevorkian)

The Varantians were locked and loaded for softball this year. Practices started much earlier than usual, with their first softball practice taking place in May. With many new additions to both the Senior and Junior chapter, the chapter had over 30 athletes who were looking to take the field for the softball tournament come Labor Day Weekend. Notable additions included Nikolas Kojoian, Meran Topalian, Koko Kassabian, Sophia Chevian, Emma Garabedian, and more. 

Meran Topalian (Photo: Tamar Kanarian)

Providence ended up fielding two teams for the day-long softball tournament. The Providence 2 team started off the day at 10:00 AM against a consistent Chicago team. The Providence 2 team had great morale heading into the matchup, as they had many players who improved dramatically over the course of the summer at practices. The team fought hard, and ended up falling to Chicago by a score of 13-3. We are all very proud of the hard work the Providence 2 team put into organizing a competitive team full of pride and sportsmanship.

The Providence 1 team took the field at 11:00 AM against the Boston 2 team. Boston, always having a plethora of athletes, was not to be taken lightly. The Providence 1 team started out slow, but eventually made quick work of the Boston 2 team by a score of 18-1. 

Team huddle

Moving onto the second round, the Providence 1 team set up a rematch of their 2019 quarterfinal matchup against a strong reloaded Detroit team. In 2019, Providence beat Detroit 21-14 to move onto the semi-finals, but the Detroit team came prepared to not roll over lightly in 2021. The first inning blew by, as both teams went three and out. Starting in the second inning, Detroit started their offensive rampage, finding every seam and hole in the Providence defense. Providence’s bats started slow, but eventually started to get on the board towards the middle innings of the game. Providence had several situations with runners on bases and two outs, but ultimately they couldn’t capitalize on those opportunities to bring runners home. Ultimately, the Providence 1 team lost by a score of 11-2, with Detroit avenging their 2019 loss. 

Providence 1 team loses to Detroit by a score of 11-2

Detroit went on to beat defending champions Western Region in the semifinals 14-4, and beat the Boston 1 team 14-3 to secure the softball championship.

Nerses Donoyan leaping over a player from Chicago while running the bases (Photo: Tamar Kanarian)

3 on 3 Basketball was recently added to the AYF Olympics in 2019, and Providence fielded a team of Rosdom Mkrtschjan, Vahe Ovsepian, Xavier Millett, Jordan Garcia, and Mackenzie Campbell. The team fought hard but lost their opening match. The chapter will look to expand its presence in the basketball tournament next year.

Shahan Topalian cranks at bat with Coach Steve Elmasian looking on (Photo: Sona Gevorkian)

Both Providence softball teams worked extremely hard to improve their skills over the course of the summer and tried their hardest to bring the softball trophy back to Providence. Newcomers Sophia Chevian, Koko Kassabian, and Emma Garabedian amazed the spectators, with many people coming up to the Providence coaches and complimenting their fantastic play. Providence will look to come back stronger in 2022 in Worcester in the softball tournament. The team held their heads high going into Sunday with the lead over Greater Boston in the point standings, and looked to use their revitalized track team to capitalize on their lead to win the Olympic Cup.

Emma Garabedian (Photo: Tamar Kanarian)

SUNDAY

The day was finally here. The Varantians had spent countless hours throughout the summer practicing to put the team in a position to win come Sunday of Labor Day Weekend. The chapter would also like to shout out and thank Colin Heaney, an East Greenwich High School alumnus and former athlete of Coach Kenny Topalian, who spent many days at the track helping the team train and prepare for their events. 

Starting off the day were several events, including the beginning of both Pentathlons, Men’s Javelin Throw, and both Men’s and Women’s Long Jump. Zach Semerjian started off the day with 5 points in the Men’s Javelin Throw. Zach was looking to break the record, but a combination of counterwind and wet grass had him settle for a throw of 172’ 3”, the furthest throw by any athlete in many years. Sevan Zobian missed fourth place by just 1’ 6”, and Caleb Jawharjian and Arthur Arslanyan also threw the javelin. Going over to the long jump pits, Sylvahna Menissian was able to secure fourth place with a jump of 9’ 0.5”, registering what later turned out to be another crucial point. Nareg Mkrtschjan took third in the long jump with a leap of 18’ 4.75”, and Michael Simonian took fourth with a jump of 16’ 6”. Vahe Ovsepian also took his first try at the long jump and seven out of eleven with a jump of 13’ 9”. Providence now sat at 74 points.

Nareg Mkrtschjan takes third in the long jump

In the Men’s 400 Meter Dash prelims, Harout Tashian (57.01 s) and Hagop Taraksian (58.33 s) qualified for the finals, and Paul Minassian (1:17.56) worked hard as well amongst a competitive field of runners. On the women’s side, Maral Zobian (1:26:00) and Susanna Ovsepian (1:27.63) pushed hard through the most difficult track event and represented the chapter well.

Harout Tashian (Photo: Tamar Kanarian)

Moving onto the 10:00 AM finals, Zach Semerjian was up again in the Men’s Shot Put. Zach, having trained with the Rutgers track and field team most of the summer, scored his second gold medal in less than an hour with a throw of 40’ 4”. Coming up huge was Alexan Topalian with a personal best throw of 40’ 1.5”, and tacked on another two points for Providence. Zander Semerjian, Arthur Arslanyan, Caleb Jawharjian, and Shahan Topalian also threw the shot put for Providence. Emma Garabedian ran in the 50 Meter Dash prelims, and qualified for the finals later that day finishing 7th overall with a time of 8.29 seconds. Taleen Simonian (8.78 s), Maral Zobian (8.93 s) narrowly missed qualification, and Mackenzi Larkin (9.76 s) also ran a very hard 50 meters. Providence continued on with 81 points. 

In the Women’s Shot Put, Sylvahna Menissian, Anahid Donoyan, Tatevik Khachatryan, Carrie Minassian, Rachael Minassian, and Lorie Simonian geared up and competed against a large field of 24 total girls in the Women’s Shot Put.

Lorie Simonian competing in the baseball throw (Photo: Arev Kaligian)

Next up were the Pentathlon Long Jumps, and the Men’s and Women’s 100 Meter Dash prelims. Emma Garabedian qualified for the 100m finals with a time of 15.11 seconds. Ellye Lennon (16.15 s) and Taleen Simonian (16.21 s) also ran in the 100m prelims, just missing finals qualification by 0.09 and 0.15 seconds. Harout Tashian (12.17 s) and Koko Kassabian (12.22 s) also cruised into the men’s final, while Jason Pjojian (13.47 s) and Jordan Garcia (14.34 s) ran hard to stay competitive in their heats.

Next were the Men’s Discus Throw, Women’s Javelin Throw, Men’s Triple Jump, and Men’s 3200 Meter Run. Zach Semerjian stepped up to the challenge and scored another 5 points and a gold medal in the Discus Throw with a toss of 135’ 2”. Zach earned High Scorer honors with that throw, and in total scored 15 points for Providence. Alexan Topalian finished third in the discus with a throw of 103’ 1”, giving Providence first and third in the Men’s discus. Arthur Arslanyan and Shahan Topalian also threw the discus for the chapter. Carrie Minassian represented Providence in the Women’s Discus Throw. In the Women’s Javelin, Tatevik Khachatryan got back into the groove of throwing again after many years off, and just missed fourth place by one foot, with a throw of 70’ 1”. Tatevik will look to come back for the top four next year in Worcester. Nareg Mkrtschjan was leading the Men’s Triple Jump with a jump of 36’ 2” until the final jump, when his opponent jumped 36” 3.5”, passing Nareg by just 1.5 inches. Nareg settled for silver and another three points. Michael Simonian, having never done the event, jumped 32’ 4.5” to score fourth place. Newcomer Matt Ursillo started off his day in the 3200 Meter Run, and impressed everyone with a blazing time of 11:43.86, which was good enough for second place by just 2.2 seconds. Eric Pjojian (13:53.89) also ran the 3200 Meter Run while recently recovering from a foot injury. Providence now stood at 95 points.

The last event with Providence athletes before the Opening Ceremonies was the Men’s 200 Meter Dash, where Koko Kassabian led all heats with a time of 24.82 seconds, and Harout Tashian also qualified with a time of 25.74 seconds.

Providence torchbearers Sevan Zobian and Harout Tashian (Photo: Tamar Kanarian)

After a great Opening Ceremonies presentation, the focus was back onto athletics. As always, the first two events after Opening Ceremonies are the hurdles. In the Men’s 110 Meter Low Hurdles, Koko Kassabian and Rosdom Mkrtschjan were looking to push the Varantian total even further. With an amazing time of 16.62 seconds, Koko won gold by a margin of 0.17 seconds, winning the first Varantian gold in the hurdles in many years. In the Women’s 100 Meter Low Hurdles, new Junior member Sophia Pereira, competing in her first Olympics, was ready to place. Sophia, with her fantastic hurdling form, finished with a time of 18.76 seconds, scoring second place and her first AYF Olympic medal. Susanna Ovsepian also ran the hurdles with a time of 24.95 seconds. After the hurdles, Providence passed the century mark with 103 points for the first time since 2015. 

The day continued on with the two 4×100 Meter Relays. On the men’s side, the relay team of Koko Kassabian, Nareg Mkrtschjan, Hagop Taraksian, and anchor Harout Tashian finished with a time of 47.90 seconds. It was not until later that the team realized how close the final times were, with Detroit and Greater Boston in the other heat running times of 47.57 seconds and 47.79 seconds, respectively. The margin of 0.33 between first and third between Detroit, Boston, and Providence was a fitting representation of how close the final results would be. In the women’s relay, Emma Garabedian, Eliz Ohanian, Ani Comella, and Sophia Pereira ran a time of 1:01.25, scoring yet another ever-important single point for the team. After the 4×100 relays, Providence had a total of 106 points.

Ani Comella (Photo: Sona Gevorkian)

The next Varantians up to compete were Matt Ursillo in the Men’s 800 Meter Run and Sophia Chevian, Emma Garabedian, and Lorie Simonian in the Women’s Baseball Throw. Matt, having done the 3200 Meter Run already, was able to place fourth in a very competitive field with a time of 2:24.58. Sophia Chevian took her turn in the baseball throw, and launched one 141’, good enough for another fourth place finish. Emma Garabedian was not far behind in fifth with a throw of 139’ 8”. Two more fourth place finishes for the Varantians inched them up to 108 points.

The next three events are always some of the most exciting: the Women’s 50 and 100 Meter Dashes and the Men’s 100 Meter Dash. Emma Garabedian, having qualified for both finals, finished with times of 8.28 seconds and 15.18 seconds in the 50 and 100 Meter Dashes, respectively, good for 6th overall in both. Koko Kassabian prepared himself for the nerve wracking 100 Meter Dash final, and delivered Providence’s first sprinting medal in many years with bronze and a time of 11.53 seconds. Koko’s time of 11.53 seconds was just 0.01 seconds behind second place (11.52 s), and just 0.05 seconds behind first place (11.48 s). Koko will be returning hungry for first place next year in Worcester. Harout ran the 100m finals with a hurt hamstring, and finished with a very respectable time of 12.26 seconds. Adding two more important points, Providence sat at 110 points total.

George Donoyan (Photo: Sona Gevorkian)

The cloudy day marched along with the Pentathlon 200 Meter Dashes and the Men’s High Jump. George Donoyan sat in third place after the 200m (fourth overall event), while Nerses Donoyan was in fourth, both securing crucial points for the Varantians. Ani Comella also was in fourth place, staying ahead of a competitor from New Jersey for fifth. Over at the high jump pit, Nareg Mkrtschjan and Michael Simonian replicated their long jump results, finishing third and fourth respectively, with jumps of 5’ 0” and 4’ 10”. Vahe Ovsepian also cleared 4’ 8” in the high jump, and will look to improve on that mark next year. The additional three points pushed Providence up to 113 points. 

Next up were the Men’s 200 Meter Dash and the Men’s 1600 Meter Run. Koko Kassabian had already established himself as a sprinter between the 100m and the hurdles events, but was chasing gold in the 200m as well. Koko ran the 200m in 24.46 seconds, winning the gold medal and beating out second place by 0.61 seconds. Harout Tashian also finished sixth with a time of 26.88 seconds in the finals, again running on a hurt hamstring. Over at the starting line of the 1600 Meter Run, Matt Ursillo started off on his third run of the day, finishing third place overall with a time of 5:29.86, securing his second medal of the day. Eric Pjojian (6:21.40) also ran a very respectable time in the mile run, alongside Giovany Aktchian who returned to compete after a few years hiatus. The times in the 1600 Meter Run showed just how competitive this Olympics was, with seven athletes running sub-6 minute miles. Providence added seven more points, totaling 120.

Around 4:00 PM, both Pentathlons wrapped up with their last events, the Men’s 1500 Meter Run and the Women’s 800 Meter Run. Once the events were over, George Donoyan (third), Nerses Donoyan (fourth), and Ani Comella (fourth) combined for a total of 12 points for Providence, shooting the total up to 132 going into the final events of the day. The last individual event was the Men’s 400 Meter Dash, where Hagop Taraksian finished fifth with a time of 1:00. The 400m field again displayed the high competition level this year, with four runners finishing with a time under one minute.

At last, the final three events of the day stood in front of the Varantians. The totals heading into the Women’s 4×200 Meter Relay, the Men’s 4×400 Meter Relay, and the Co-Ed 4×200 Meter Relay were as follows:

Providence: 132 points
Greater Boston: 126 points
Detroit: 119 points

With 15 points up for grabs in the final three events, the calculations by the coaches and team captains of all three teams ensued. It was soon established that there were several scenarios in which a tie between Providence and Greater Boston was possible. A three-way tie between all three chapters was even a possibility. Given the year we have all been through, this conclusion of the Olympics was no different: unprecedented.

Providence quickly realized that a few things needed to happen in order to win the Olympic Cup. Firstly, the Varantians needed to finish top 4 in at least every event, which would push them to 135 points. In that scenario, if Detroit was able to hold off Boston in every relay, Boston would score nine points, tying with Providence for first, and Detroit would finish with 134 points. Therefore, the goal was clear: get fourth in at least all of the events, and root for Detroit in every relay. 

The air thickened in the Providence huddle. Coaches Kenny Topalian and Steve Elmasian along with chapter president Nareg Mkrtschjan, athletic chair Hagop Taraksian, and several team members mulled over which athletes should enter each relay. Many considerations had to take place; who had gas left in the tank, injuries, relay handoffs, and more. The huddle was full of different emotions: excitement, fear, nervousness, confidence, anticipation… and the list goes on and on. Everyone knew one thing: the next three events would determine whether or not all of the hard work that was put in over the past two years would finally pay off, and bring the Olympic Cup back to its rightful place in Providence.

Sophia Pereira participating in the relay (Photo: Sona Gevorkian)

The chaotic discussions soon turned into silence, as the relays were about to officially begin. Starting off was the Women’s 4×200 Meter Relay. Providence knew that there was likely no chance of catching Boston or Detroit unless they dropped the baton, but they needed to beat out the Middlesex County West and New Jersey chapters to finish third. A relay team of Emma Garabedian, Ani Comella, Eliz Ohanian, and Sophia Pereira fended off the other two chapters with a time of 2:12.75 to score third place. Things looked like they were starting to fall into place, as Detroit beat Boston by 1.17 seconds. The standings after the first relay were:

Providence: 134 points
Greater Boston: 129 points
Detroit: 124 points

Jason Pjojian with the baton. Ani Comella and Koko Kassabian cheering on. (Photo: Sona Gevorkian)

The next race was the Men’s 4×400 Meter Relay. Unfortunately, the team’s best 400m runner, Harout Tashian, was unable to run due to a pulled hamstring. This led to a difficult discussion amongst the coaches as to who would replace Harout. The coaches and captains discussed intensely, and eventually fielded a relay team of Sevan Zobian, Matt Ursillo, Jason Pjojian, and Nareg Mkrtschjan. Detroit and Boston broke away from the pack, and Detroit luckily was able to beat out Greater Boston for first place. Providence was neck and neck with Philadelphia throughout the entire race, and took the lead for a bit, but the Philadelphia anchor ultimately pulled away, leaving Providence in fourth with a time of 4:27.37. Everything was still going according to plan, as the Varantians scored points in both relays, and Detroit held off Greater Boston twice. After the second to last relay, the standings were:

Providence: 135 points
Greater Boston: 132 points
Detroit: 129 points

One thing had been established at this point: a three-way tie was no longer possible. However, the Varantians had a tough race to run ahead of them. Detroit and Greater Boston have always had great co-ed relay teams, and if Greater Boston won with Providence finishing fourth, the Cup would have slipped out of their hands by just one point. To ensure victory, Providence needed to finish at least third in the co-ed relay, and if Greater Boston won, then both chapters would be co-champions. 

The final team submissions were due for the 4×200 Meter Co-Ed Relay. The officials began the lane assignments. The spectators’ hearts started to beat at the Olympic Cup rested on the shoulders of their team’s athletes. Providence’s relay team consisted of Emma Garabedian, Hagop Taraksian, Eliz Ohanian, and anchor Koko Kassabian. The starting gun was shot, and the Olympics would soon be determined.

Hagop Taraksian passing the baton to Eliz Ohanian (Photo: Sona Gevorkian)

It was clear after the first 200 meters that nobody would catch Detroit or Greater Boston. They built a comfortable lead that the remaining Providence team would not catch up to. However, Providence needed to finish third, and that meant holding off Philadelphia for the entire race. Emma Garabedian ran a strong 200 meters against three boys, and handed off to Hagop Taraksian, who received the baton with Providence in a fourth place position. Hagop handed the baton off to Eliz Ohanian. Eliz, naturally a swimmer, came to almost every track practice and worked hard at improving her running skills. Her hard work was what paid off in the end, as her strong 200 meters kept Providence’s hopes alive going into the final leg. Eliz handed off the baton to newly established sprinting star Koko Kassabian, and as he turned the corner, it was clear to the Providence chapter spectators that Philadelphia would not catch up. The Providence team finished third with a time of 2:00.93, about six seconds ahead of the Philadelphia relay team.

The calculations were quickly done, and it soon set in… the goal was achieved.

The Olympic Cup was returning to Providence!

Number 41.

The final top three tally at the end of Sunday was:

Providence: 137 points
Greater Boston: 137 points
Detroit: 132 points

The meet officials gathered to discuss and said they were going to double check all of the results, given that in the 86 prior Olympics that have taken place, there had never been a tie before. A few hours later, the results were officially confirmed. 

Providence is not new to winning the Olympics. Providence had now won 41 of 86 Olympic Cups ever awarded. However, there was something different about #41. 

This Providence chapter and team was a different group that included veteran members, new members, and Junior members. Some members had been in AYF since they were ten years old, and some joined within the past few months. Nevertheless, this victory truly felt like it was won by a family. Over the course of practices, new friendships were formed, new conversations were had, and many laughs were shared. By the time the Olympics came around, it was as if the chapter had grown up together since birth.

The bigger victory was that these young Armenian men and women continued to proudly represent their ancestors, those who walked through the desert and survived the Armenian Genocide. The goal of the Providence coaches and chapter executives was always clear: win or lose, we must bring in as many young Armenians as we can, and keep their heritage and identity alive through the AYF-YOARF. Although Providence won the Olympic Cup hand in hand with Greater Boston, in the words of Coach Kenny Topalian, “The AYF won today”.

High scorers pictured left to right: Knar Topouzian (Detroit), Melanie Sarafian (Detroit) and Natalia Oganesian (Providence)

The victory party was just as sweet as all of the hard work paying off on the track. All of the AYF-YOARF region’s members flooded the floor to watch the award ceremony. Natalia Oganesian and Zach Semerjian received their well deserved High Scorer trophies, as the duo scored a combined six gold medals and 30 points. Providence was also the recipient of another honorable trophy, as chapter president Nareg Mkrtschjan received the Ernest Nahigian Sportsmanship Award. The trophy truly should go to the entire chapter, as all of the Providence athletes displayed outstanding sportsmanship and respect throughout the entire weekend. 

Nareg Mkrtschjan accepts the Ernest Nahigian Sportsmanship Award (Photo: Sona Gevorkian)

At last, the final results were announced: “There is a tie for first place… Congratulations to the Greater Boston “Nejdeh” chapter and the Providence “Varantian” chapter!” Both chapter presidents took the stage to accept the trophy, but first embraced in a hug of love and respect for the AYF-YOARF and the Olympic Spirit. The trophy was then lifted for both chapters’ members to see, as chants of “Bos-ton!” and “Pro-vi-dence!” filled the Rhode Island Convention Center Ballroom.

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Following the award ceremony the Varantians gave way for the Greater Boston Nejdehs to celebrate with their “Pampouri” dance. Then the Varantians took the floor. The sweetest feeling for the chapter members was dancing their ever-famous “Hey Jon” dance with the Olympic Cup in the middle, many experiencing it for the first time. It was truly a sight to see: new and veteran members holding pinkies with Providence AYF alumni, many generations of a united people celebrating together in victory.

The chapter is looking forward to further building its membership and growing both its Senior and Junior chapters. The AYF Olympics is an amazing opportunity that every Armenian should get to experience. The AYF-YOARF also has many additional initiatives that members can take advantage of, including internships, educational seminars and weekends, leadership opportunities, and more. 

If you are interested in joining the Providence AYF-YOARF Senior (17-26 years old) or Junior (10-16 years old) Chapters, please reach out via email to [email protected]

(Photo: Varky Kaprielian/GVK Images)
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Founded in 1933, The Armenian Youth Federation is an international, non-profit, youth organization of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF). The AYF-YOARF Eastern United States stands on five pillars that guide its central activities and initiatives: Educational, Hai Tahd, Social, Athletic and Cultural. The AYF also promotes a fraternal attitude of respect for ideas and individuals amongst its membership. Unity and cooperation are essential traits that allow members of the organization to work together to realize the AYF’s objectives.

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