CLINTON, Mass.—The Greater Boston AYF “Nejdeh” Chapter retired their first Olympics Cup with a team of veterans and promising new participants. Their three-win streak survived through a COVID cancellation and the only tie in Olympics history. It marked the 13th time that an Olympic Cup has been retired; Philadelphia turned the trick back in 2008. Aside from Philly, Providence has retired seven Olympic Cups; Detroit has three, and the old Boston Siamanto Chapter took one in the 1980s.
This year, the Nejdehs scored 166 points but came into Sunday’s events trailing Providence 74 to 48. Even after the morning events were completed, the Varantians still led 91-82. But after Anoush Krafian won a thrilling 100-meter dash, Greater Boston took the lead and never looked back. Detroit actually scored the most points on Sunday and overtook Providence for second place with 143 points.
Greater Boston entered 48 members—the most of any chapter. They were led by perennial high scorer Anoush Krafian and Lori Ganjian, who won the pentathlon as she did in 2019. These two were backed up by distance runner Lia Aftandilian, swimmer Alique Stepanian and thrower Alex Avakian (all with 13 points) and versatile Nairi Krafian with 12. Daron Hamparian returned to the pentathlon and contributed nine points with his silver. The Nejdehs took home 14 golds and 13 silvers but, unlike other recent years, won only one relay.
Detroit brought 34 athletes this year, and they started slowly with only 22 points on Friday. But Team DKT certainly made up ground on Sunday scoring 121 points which was three more than Greater Boston and 65 more than Providence. Sasoun Tcholakian defended his pentathlon title in easy fashion. He was helped by veterans like Knar Topouzian (13 points), as well as his twin brother Mher and Melanie Sarafian, who each had 11. Overall, Detroit copped 13 golds and nine silvers with seven of those firsts coming in relay events. In fact, they won all five relays during the track meet on Sunday.
Providence came to this weekend with 38 entries, slightly less than the 52 they had last year. They started strong again on Friday by winning the swim meet and sweeping all four places in men’s tennis to build a lead. They were paced by swimmers Courtney Boghosian and Gor Bagumyan, each with three individual golds. Sprinter Koko Kassabian, thrower Zach Semerjian and swimmer Natalia Oganesian each chipped in with 11 points, while Ani Comella took second in the pentathlon. The Varantians scored 130 points with 13 golds and silvers and won both co-ed relays in the pool.
Philadelphia scored 71 points to place fourth and win the Most Improved Chapter award. The Sebouhs accumulated these points from good depth, as their top scorer Anto Keshgegian scored only eight points. Meline and Armen Almasian together won four golds to lead North Andover to fifth place, just ahead of New Jersey 37-33.
Middlesex County West finished just behind with 19 points in seventh place The New York Hyortiks were next with 11 points, one more than the host chapter. Worcester was led by rookie Niko Manolakos who won two distance events. Granite City was 10th with six points while North Valley (West Coast) had five points. Chicago was next with three points with West San Fernando (West Coast) scoring two. Manhattan completed the scoring in 14th place with one point. There were nine other chapters that entered events but did not score. A total of 309 members entered, just two less than last year’s record.
The first triple gold winner of the weekend was rookie swimmer Courtney Boghosian from Providence. She won the 50 and 100-yard freestyles as well as the 50 backstroke. Boghosian is a senior at Lincoln High School. She placed second in both the 200 and 500 freestyle events at the Rhode Island High School championships in February. She also swims for the Gators club team out of Seekonk, MA and competes in high-level meets. Boghosian enjoyed her first AYF Olympics feeling a real sense of community and found the environment to be very friendly. She is also going through the college recruiting process with three official visits scheduled at Division 1 institutions. Boghosian hopes to make a college decision soon and plans to study business and international relations. Boghosian says she would like to participate in next year’s Olympics in Washington, DC, but it may be challenging as a freshman on a college team.
Providence’s Gor Bagumyan also won three swimming events in his second Olympics. He started with the 50-yard freestyle and backstroke and then finished with the 50 butterfly. Bagumyan will be a junior at Clark University, which hosted this year’s swim meet. He is a freestyle specialist on the Clark team with times of 21.45 and 46.68 in the 50 and 100-yard events, respectively. Bagumyan said he joined the AYF last year because he felt he was losing touch with his Armenian roots after going away to college since most of his family lives in Armenia. His membership in the AYF allows him to “feel a sense of pride for representing the diaspora.” He is majoring in economics and minoring in both political science and business management; he plans to attend law school after graduation.
Anoush Krafian from Greater Boston was the only high scorer this year from the track events. Krafian just graduated from Dartmouth College as a neuroscience major and a captain of their track team. She placed second in the pentathlon at the Indoor Ivy League Championship this past season with 3,530 points. In April, Krafian scored a personal best 5,016 points in the heptathlon at the Tennessee Relays and went on to place fourth at the Outdoor Ivy League Championships in May. After the season, Krafian was named a USTFCCCA All-Academic Athlete for her achievements on the track while maintaining a GPA over 3.25. She was also recognized as an Ivy League All-Academic for her accomplishments. Krafian began graduate school in July at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. She will have over one year of NCAA eligibility left due to COVID canceled seasons. Krafian is still undefeated in AYF competition after seven years and is second highest on the active career scoring list with 105 points. With several years of AYF eligibility remaining, she could become the all-time high scorer (male or female) in five more years.
The pentathlon trophies went to Sasoun Tcholakian of Detroit and Greater Boston’s Lori Ganjian. Tcholakian defended his pentathlon title from last year by winning the first three events to establish a 241 point lead and coasted to win by over 500 points. Ganjian won her second gold in the pent after trying her hand in open events last year. Despite falling behind by 167 points after the first event, Ganjian won the next three decisively to clinch the crown. She started the final 800 run but chose not to finish in order to rest for the relays.
The first two records for the weekend fell on Friday in the golf events. Alex Kassabian from the New York Chapter shot a 67 to break the old mark of 69 he set last year. Then Theresa Jelalian of New Jersey shot 39 to break Michelle Hagopian’s old record of 40 set in 2013. That evening, the Providence co-ed freestyle swimming relay was timed in 1:50.61 to shatter the old record of 1:56.95 set by Greater Boston last year. Avakian from Greater Boston broke his own 2015 discus record of 151’7” with a throw of 154’3”. Last but not least, the Ernest Nahigian Award for sportsmanship and fraternal spirit was presented to Talia Oknayan from Detroit.
MEN’S TRACK & FIELD
The men’s events once again showed much depth with only three athletes winning two events. First was veteran Alex Avakian from Greater Boston, who placed second in the pentathlon last year. Avakian won the discus throwing 154’3” and broke his own record on his fourth toss. Last year’s winner, Zach Semerjian from Providence, took second ahead of Detroit’s Michael Nercesian. Semerjian had already won the first throwing event in the javelin for the third straight time with a heave of 161’8”. Avakian placed second here while Nercesian was third. Avakian then won his second gold in the shot put, tossing 47’7” while Semerjian settled for silver over Sarkis Dagley from Detroit.
Armen Almasian from North Andover was the second athlete winning two golds. Almasian began his day by defending his long jump title with a leap of 19’7.75”. Philly’s Masis Mardirosian edged AYF CE chairman Nareg Mkrtschjan from Providence for second place. Almasian then went on to win the 100-meter dash in 11.80 seconds with Koko Kassabian (Providence) and David Coburn (Detroit) on his heels.
Worcester’s 17-year-old rookie Niko Manolakos was the only other double gold medalist. He started his day by winning the 800 with a time of 2:09.85. New Jersey’s Raffi Buchakjian placed second over Garen Vartanian from Detroit. Manolakos bested Buchakjian again in the 1600 by over three seconds in a time of 5:03.27. Alexander Dardarian from Philadelphia took third. Dardarian had won the 3200-meter run in the morning in 11:19.97. Providence’s Matt Ursillo was close until the final lap, and he settled for second over Van Saroukhanian from Detroit.
The men’s track events started with the 110-meter hurdles. Koko Kassabian clocked in at 17.12, a scant 0.03 seconds ahead of Mher Tcholakian from Detroit. Michael Nercesian took his third bronze of the day in this event. The men’s 200 was won by Michael Simonian from Providence in 24.80. Teammate Kassabian won his second silver in this event while Coburn was third once again. Unfortunately, Simonian pulled his hamstring at the end of this race, and that finished his day. In the 400, Mher Tcholakian bounced back to win in 58.06 in front of Greg Cormier of Greater Boston and Coburn who won his third bronze.
The men’s triple jump saw Armand Keosian defend his title with a leap of 37’2”. Keosian was the only gold medalist from the AYF Western Region, as he was last year. Philadelphia’s Anto Keshgegian won the silver, and Richard Hovannisian the bronze. Hovannisian is from West San Fernando, also in the Western region. Keshgegian came back to win the high jump at a height of 5’4”. Mher Tcholakian took second just above Mkrtschjan.
The 4 x 100-meter relay was a hotly contested event as Detroit won with a time of 48.15. Both Providence and Greater Boston were close behind with times of 48.78 and 49.04, respectively. Detroit also won the 4 x 400 relay in 4:04.39, while Philadelphia placed second and Greater Boston was third.
WOMEN’S TRACK & FIELD
High scorer Anoush Krafian extended her undefeated streak to seven consecutive Olympics matching the record runs of Detroit’s Nancy Gavoor and Michelle Hagopian during her Granite City days. But getting to that point was more difficult than any of her previous six years. Krafian started her day by easily winning the shot put with a toss of 32’10” which was over seven feet further than Detroit’s Patil Tcholakian and Tsoline Gevorkian from Middlesex West. Then, in the 100-meter dash, Krafian won the most exciting event of these Games and of her AYF career. Three-time champion Melanie Sarafian of Detroit burst out to a quick lead and appeared to be in control. Krafian was able to catch up near the end and won with a slightly better lean at the tape. The electronic system recorded the times at 12.74 and 12.75 with a photo used to confirm the win. Arabella English from New Jersey took third in the event. Krafian won her third gold in the 200 in 25.2 seconds, which just missed Andrea Nranian’s (Detroit) record set in 1978. Sarafian settled for another silver, and Anahid Jerikian of Chicago was third.
Four other women showed their skills by each winning two events, and two of them were also from Greater Boston. Lia Aftandilian dominated the distance events by first winning the 1600-meter run in 6:13.87 ahead of Lilit Kevorkian (New York) and Talene Nercesian (Detroit). The same three ladies had battled in these events in 2021, and this year would be more of the same. They finished in the same order in the 800-meter run where Aftandilian was clocked in 2:54.17. Nercesian took some consolation by winning the 400 in 1:07.85 ahead of Aftandilian and Victoria Nigoghosian, also from Detroit.
The other Nejdeh double gold medalist was Knar Krafian. Krafian first defended her javelin crown with a heave of 84’11”. North Andover’s Talia Markarian took silver over Sevan Dulgarian from Middlesex West. The youngest Krafian then won the 100-meter hurdles for the third straight time. Her time of 17.62 was 10 seconds faster than Sara Kurkechian from Detroit and Melanie Simonian of Providence.
Meline Almasian from North Andover joined her brother Armen as a double winner. She began by taking the long jump with a distance of 15’11”. Almasian had broken the long jump record for her University of New Hampshire team this year with a leap of 18’8” but was competing with a tight hamstring during this weekend. Sanan Mahrokhian and Nairi Krafian, both from Greater Boston, took the other medals. Almasian then won the hotly contested triple jump event over Knar Topouzian from Detroit and Knar Krafian. Topouzian led this event after four attempts with a distance of 30’5.5”. Almasian then leapt 31’3” only to be passed by Topouzian who went 31’7” on her fifth try. But on her final jump Meline hopped 32’2.5”, and Topouzian came up 3” short on her last attempt.
Topouzian took some solace by winning her other two events on Sunday. She had first defended her discus title with a toss of 90’5”. Taline Guzelian won silver for Greater Boston about two feet ahead of Gasia Oknayan from Detroit. Then late in the day, Topouzian won the high jump as she did last year. And just like last year, her best height of the day was the same as the second place finisher, but she won the gold based on fewer misses. Topouzian and Isabelle Minassian Suggs both jumped 4’6”, while Nairi Krafian cleared 3’10” to get the bronze.
The first women’s sprint event of the day was the 50-meter dash. Sarafian three-peated in this race with a time of 6.92 which was a bit slower than her record. Nyree Kourkounian from North Andover and Raffaella Keshishian of Philadelphia placed second and third. The final individual event to be completed was the baseball throw and saw Gevorkian win gold for the third consecutive Olympics. Her heave of 174’ was well ahead of Jelalian from New Jersey and Sena Changelian of Greater Boston.
The women’s relays were once again battles between Greater Boston and Detroit. In both events, Team DKT built up a large lead to hold off fast-charging Anoush Krafian. In the 4 x 100, the Motown quartet brought the baton around in 53.61, 0.66 of a second ahead of the Nejdehs with New Jersey in third. In the 4 x 200-meter race, the margin was slightly less as Detroit clocked 1:57.41 with Philadelphia well behind those two teams. The final event of the day was the 4 x 200 co-ed relay, and Detroit finished their track relay sweep in 1:46.84. Once again, Greater Boston and New Jersey trailed behind, but the Nejdehs already knew they had secured the championship and retired their first Olympic Cup.
Superb coverage, Bob! The detail and background info on the athletes was fantastic.
Greatly appreciated by someone who was unable to attend. Next year…….. David Gavoor