Detroit Domination

The winning Detroit “Kopernik Tandourjian” Team (Photo: Sona Gevorkian)

LANDOVER, MD—The Detroit AYF “Kopernik Tandourjian” (K-T) Chapter won its first Olympics Cup in almost a decade, racking up a total of 151 points during the Sunday track and field meet–more than the next two teams combined. It accumulated a clean total of 200 points, becoming the first team to hit the double century mark since Providence in 2015. It was the 16th time that Detroit’s Team K-T won an Olympic Cup, second only to Providence’s 41. 

Detroit entered 42 members and scored 49 points during the Friday events, trailing defending three-time champ Greater Boston by 15 points. By the end of the Sunday morning events, the Greater Boston Nejdehs had expanded their lead to 101-79. Yet after the Detroit ladies finished first, second and third in the 100 meter dash, they grabbed the lead and never looked back. Detroit was led by veteran high scorers Knar Topouzian and Melanie Sarafian, as well as Sasoun Tcholakian, who won the pentathlon for the third straight year. This trio was helped by Sasoun’s twin brother Mher and rookie swimmer Natalya Katcherian, who each scored 13 points. Overall, Detroit copped 19 golds and 15 silvers, with six of those firsts coming in relay events. In fact, they won all five relays during the track meet for the second straight year.

Greater Boston scored 156.5 points, which was only 9.5 less than last year’s championship effort.  They entered 38 members, which was 10 fewer than last year. Once again, they were led by Anoush Krafian, who won the pentathlon in record fashion and is now undefeated for eight consecutive years, the longest such streak in AYF history. She was helped by Nareg Minassian’s three swimming golds, as well as sister Knar Krafian (13 points) with Alex Avakian and newcomer Nora Vartanian, each of whom scored 10 points. The Nejdehs brought home 13 golds and 14 silvers, with four of those golds in swimming relays.

Philadelphia accumulated 72.5 points to place third and brought 35 athletes to Washington. The Sebouhs featured high scorer Alex Dardarian, who swept the distance events. They edged out Providence, who finished fourth with 64 points. Team Green had high scorer Natalia Oganesian in the pool, along with thrower Zach Semerjian, who won 13 points.

New Jersey had the most entrants of any chapter with 46. Their 49 points earned them fifth place, with over half of those points scored on Friday. Their neighbors in New York scored 30 points for sixth place.  They had triple sprint winner Avo Sarkissian and veteran Lilit Kevorkian, who won 10 points. Meline and Armen Almasian together scored 18 of North Andover’s 19 points, which was one more than Chicago in eighth place.

For the first time in Olympics history, a member at large scored, as Arman Edilyan from Ohio had 11 points in the pool. Granite City took 10th place with 8 points, while the host Washington chapter had 3 points. Racine and Middlesex County West scored 2 and 1 points respectively to complete the chapter scoring list. There were seven other chapters that entered events but did not score, including Sydney, Australia. A total of 326 members entered events, which eclipsed the recent high of 311.

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Individual Awards

Six high scorer trophies were awarded this year to three men and three women. All the women and one of the men were high scorers in 2021, and the other two men were runners under the age of 20.  

The first triple gold winner of the weekend was swimmer Natalia Oganesian from Providence. She won the 100 yard freestyle and 50 yard breaststroke, and she completed her day with a record in the 50 yard butterfly. Oganesian is a junior at the University of Rhode Island (URI) majoring in chemical engineering. She was a member of the swim team at East Greenwich High School and now competes for the URI club team. She lost access to her practice pool in August and was concerned about doing well at Olympics–but her worries were clearly unfounded. Her favorite part of the weekend is meeting so many people from all over and making great memories every year. She also thanks her Varantian teammates for their support and kindness.  

Greater Boston’s Nareg Minassian also won three swimming events, as he did in 2021. He started with the 50 yard and 100 yard freestyles and finished with the 50 butterfly. Minassian is a sophomore at Yale University majoring in molecular, cellular and developmental biology pursuing a pre-med track. His best events at Yale were the 50 and 100 yard freestyles (best times, 20.13 and 44.47) as well as the 100 yard breaststroke and 200 IM (best times, 55.29 and 1:50.07). His team captain gave him permission to miss two pre-season practices to come to Washington. Minassian says that every day and night of Olympics weekend is so much fun. He and his friends have already booked their rooms for Olympics weekend in Detroit.

Melanie Sarafian from Detroit dominated the three sprint events on the track. She increased her career total to 76 points in her six years of participation and is third on the active scoring list. Sarafian is a recent graduate of the University of Michigan and plans to apply to dental school. She said that the chapter practices this summer were important for her success and thanks the dedicated coaches for their organization and motivation. Sarafian was very excited to win the Cup for the first time in her six years of competing. While the chapter members enjoy spending time together at Olympics, winning made it a little sweeter.  

Detroit’s Knar Topouzian was the fourth high scorer, winning golds in the field events to remain the top active scorer now with 121 points. This year, it was the discus throw, combined with the high and triple jumps. She is in her third and final year of law school and plans to work at a midsize insurance company after passing the bar. Topouzian said that she knew the team was behind going into Sunday’s events, but she credits their wins in both of the early 4×100 relays for getting the ball rolling. Next year will be her final year of Olympics competition. While she does not want this era of her life to end, Topouzian is looking forward to hopefully raising the Cup one more time at home in Detroit.

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The final two triple gold medalists won all six of the men’s running events, a feat last accomplished in 2004. Avo Sarkissian from New York won the sprint events in relatively easy fashion. He said that due to the extreme heat, he tried to run the times needed to secure enough points for his chapter to win. In the future, he would like to go after the record times in those events. Sarkissian studies computer engineering at Northeastern University and runs for their club track team. While on the track team at Cornwall Central High School, he had a PR of 51.18 in the 400, and his indoor 4×400 relay team placed fifth at the New Balance national championships, earning All-American status. He enjoyed supporting his fellow Hyortik members on Sunday and had a great time at the dances.

Alex Dardarian swept the three distance events for Philadelphia. Like Sarkissian, he tried to conserve his energy while running in the sweltering heat. Dardarian is a junior at Haverford High School and competes for their track and cross country teams. He placed eighth in the 1600 at the PAISAA Championships in May with a time of 4:38.33, his personal best. Dardarian has attended Camp Haiastan since the age of seven and joined the AYF Juniors when he was 10. While he has been going to Olympics with his family for many years and competed last year, he said it was a surreal experience to do a chapter dance with his Philly teammates, as they finished third. 

The pentathlon trophies went to Anoush Krafian of Greater Boston and Detroit’s Sasoun Tcholakian.  Krafia graduated last spring from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business with a master’s degree in management studies and a GPA of 3.86. While competing at Dartmouth as an undergraduate, Krafian had personal bests of 3539 points in the pentathlon and 5016 points in the heptathlon. Krafian is still undefeated in the AYF competition after eight years and is second on the active career scoring list with 120 points. Tcholakian was victorious in the pentathlon for the third straight year. Tcholakian played wide receiver at Ohio Wesleyan University, where he majored in sports management and business management. Since graduation, he has worked with his alma mater as an assistant football coach. He could not practice for Olympics as much as usual this summer, because he was busy coaching, and he was thankful to pull off a win. His final thought was, “Winning is fun!”

The first record for the weekend went to Oganesian in the women’s 50 yard butterfly. This event has not been contested for many years, since the women have swum a 25 yard butterfly instead. The first four ladies in Friday’s race all swam faster than the old record set in 1981 by Grace Chakarian from Lowell. Anoush Krafian also set a new mark in the pentathlon. She scored 3170 points this year, breaking the old record of 3037 set in 1979 by Boston’s Allison Aylaian. Krafian missed this record by a single point in 2021, so this year was doubly sweet. Another record was broken during the final event of the weekend, the co-ed 4×200 meter relay. Detroit was clocked in at 1:43.96, breaking Greater Boston’s old record of 1:45.27 set in 2019. Last but not least, the Ernest Nahigian Award for sportsmanship was presented to Anto Keshgegian from Philadelphia. 

Men’s Track & Field

The men’s events were dominated by four athletes, who won 10 of the 13 individual events. First was high scoring sprinter Avo Sarkissian from New York. Sarkissian won the 100 meters in 11.54, with defending champ Armen Almasian of North Andover in second and Philadelphia’s Vahe Minasian in third. Sarkissian then took the 200 with a time of 23.60, beating Detroit teammates Mano Karjian and Michael Ohanesian. He finished his day by running the 400 meters in 53.71. Chicago’s Armen Jerikian won silver, and Karjian took bronze.

The second men’s high scorer was 17-year-old distance runner Alex Dardarian of Philadelphia. In the morning, Dardarian and Providence’s Matt Ursillo finished 1-2 in the 3200 meters, just like they did last year. Dardarian was clocked at 11:31.04, with New Jersey’s Alec Avedian in third. Alex then outran 2021 distance king David Barsamian from New Jersey in the 800 with a time of 2:15.81. Detroit’s Garen Vartanian won bronze. Dardarian went on to win the 1600, where he placed third last year. His time of 5:09.48 was 20 seconds ahead of Van Saroukhanian’s from Detroit, with Ursillo in third.

All the medals for the throwing events were won by the same three athletes. Zach Semerjian won the javelin for the fourth straight year, with a throw of 164’11”. Detroit’s Michael Nercesian took second place over Alex Avakian from Greater Boston. Semerjian then won the shot put with a heave of 44’5”, and Avakian beat Nercesian by about a foot for the silver. Alex bounced back to win his discus specialty, throwing 146’8″, which was about 7’ off his AYF record. Semerjian settled for second in this event, while Nercesian took the bronze.

Alex Dardarian (Philadelphia) strides away in the 3200 meters (Photo: Sona Gevorkian)

The fourth men’s double winner was Mher Tcholakian from Detroit. Tcholakian began by winning the triple jump by bouncing 38’11”. This was more than 4’ ahead of Philadelphia teammates Mher Mardirosian and Anto Keshgegian. Tcholakian then won the 110 meter hurdles in 16.83. which was only 0.05 seconds better than Koko Kassabian from Providence, who edged Tcholakian by 0.03 seconds last year. Nejdeh Greg Cormier placed third. Tcholakian almost won his third event in the high jump but narrowly lost to Vahe Minasian. Both jumpers tied at 5’6” with only one miss, so they proceeded to a jump-off where Minasian took the gold. Defending champ Keshgegian settled for the bronze.

The only other men’s event, the long jump, was probably the tightest competition of the day. After the first three jumps, Shant Mahrokhian of Greater Boston recorded 18’11.5”, which was 0.5” ahead of two-time champion Armen Almasian. After a 17’ jump and a foul, Almasian leapt 19’0.5” on his sixth and final attempt. Mahrokhian had the final say but fouled on his last jump, as he pulled his hamstring. Vahe Minasian took third place in the event.

The relays were both easy victories for Detroit. They took the 4×100 meter in 46.54, about two seconds ahead of Greater Boston and Philadelphia. In the 4×400 relay, Team K-T won in 4:04.13, while New Jersey placed second and Philadelphia was third.  

Women’s Track & Field

The women also featured a high scorer who won the three sprint events. Detroit’s Melanie Sarafian won the 50 meter dash for the fourth consecutive year. Her time, 6.81, was a bit off her record of 6.41 in this event but fast enough to best perennial rival Meline Almasian from North Andover as well as teammate Tiffany Tufenkjian. Sarafian then led a Detroit sweep in the 100 clocking 12.95. Mary Coburn and Tufenkjian took the silver and bronze. Finally, Sarafian won the 200 with a time of 28.04, which was about two seconds faster than Lori Ganjian from Greater Boston and Coburn in third.

While Sarafian was taking care of business on the track, veteran teammate Knar Topouzian did the same in the field events. Topouzian first three-peated in the discus, throwing 84’5″, with Anoush Gigarjian of Greater Boston in second and Detroit’s Gasia Oknayan in third. Topouzian then leaped 32’11.5″ in the triple jump, missing the record by just 3″. In doing so, she topped Meline Almasian and Anahid Jerikian from Chicago. Last year, Almasian won the event on her final jump, beating Topouzian by only 3″. Topouzian also three-peated in the high jump by clearing 4’8″, which was 6″ more than Ganjian and Providence’s Ani Comella.

Another field event specialist, Nejdeh Knar Krafian, won two golds and narrowly missed out on a third. Krafian first threw a shot put of 32’9″ to top Chicago’s Lauren Billeh and Anoush Gigarjian. Krafian then went on to win the 100 meter hurdles for the fourth straight year in a time of 17.29. Ani Comella and Detroit’s Sara Kurkechian placed second and third. Krafian’s third event was the javelin. She won this event for the past two years, and she was leading when she had to stop to run the hurdles, which was being held at the same time. At that point she had a toss of 82’4″ and was just 4″ ahead of Washington’s Tatevik Khachatryan. Yet on her final attempt, Greater Boston’s Sena Changelian threw 90’10”, moving up from third to first. Khachatryan and Krafian had one more attempt each but both came up short. Changelian almost won the baseball throw on her final attempt but came up a foot short of Taleen Boman from Detroit, who threw 162’9″. Philly’s Ava Zanaras placed third. The only other field event was the long jump, where Meline Almasian three-peated with a leap of 15’4″. Lori Ganjian and Anahid Jerikian took the other medals.    

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The women’s distance events saw some veterans battle with new faces. In the 1600 meter run, 2021 champion New York’s Lilit Kevorkian won easily with a time of 5:55.55. Yet 16-year-old Sarah Varadian of Granite City edged defending champion Lia Aftandilian from Greater Boston for second. Kevorkian also came up golden in the 800, clocking in at 2:37.99. Detroit’s Talene Nercesian outran Varadian for the silver medal. Nercesian and Varadian went head-to-head again in the 400, where Nercesian won for the third straight year in a row with 1:07.50. Jessica Selverian from Philadelphia took the bronze.  

The women’s relays were once again battles between Greater Boston and Detroit. In both events, Team K-T used their depth to build up a large lead to hold off Anoush Krafian. In the 4×100, the Motown quartet brought the baton around in 55.32, while their time in the 4×200 meter was 1:55.04. The New Jersey Arsens took third in both those events. The final event of the day was the 4 x 200 co-ed relay, and Detroit finished their track relay sweep in record fashion, clocking 1:43.96. Once again, Greater Boston was second and Philadelphia trailed well behind. The record was the icing on the cake for Team K-T to begin their first victory celebration in nine years.

Note: The AYF Special issue, postponed due to the Artsakh crisis, is en route to our print subscribers this week and will be available online for all next week.

Bob Tutunjian

Bob Tutunjian

Bob Tutunjian is president of Vivaproducts, a medical device company in Massachusetts. He has been actively involved with the AYF and the Olympics since 1967 and has written many articles covering this event.
Bob Tutunjian

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