The Black Jack cross country ski team performed brilliantly at the recent Olympic Trials and qualifications for the World Junior and U23 World championship held in Canmore last week.
Going against Canada’s best skiers, Black Jack’s small contingent served notice that they will be a legitimate threat in the future. The team raced in two sprints and two distance races for the Olympic Trials, in which one sprint and two distance races counted for the U23 Worlds and World Juniors, coming just short of making the respective squads.
Julien Locke led Black Jack racers by qualifying for both the 1.7-kilometre sprint finals on Wednesday and Saturday and finishing in fourth and sixth place respectively.
“We did very well,” said Black Jack ski coach David Wood. “I mean Julien he was four and six in the two sprint races, which is pretty darned good for a first-year senior. He was the best by far in his age.”
The 20-year-old Locke just missed the podium in Wednesday’s sprint, edged out by Whitehorse skier Graham Nishikawa who took third, Canmore’s Jesse Cockney in second, and Bob Thompson of Ontario’s Team Hardwood in first. Cockney, however, would take first place in Saturday’s sprint and secure his spot on the Canadian Olympic cross-country ski team.
On Sunday, Black Jack skier Colin Ferrie of Kimberley had a great finish in the 30-km skiathlon placing 10th overall and fourth among U23 skiers. Graeme Killick took first spot in the race and was later named to the Canadian Olympic Team on Tuesday. Former Black Jack racer Geoffrey Richards placed 12th overall, while David Palmer was 20th and Locke 25th.
“That was the best race of the season for him (Ferrie), but unfortnately David Palmer got sick.”
Palmer had high hopes coming into the competition but illness hampered his performance, as the 20-year-old Rosslander skied to 20th in Thursday’s 15-km classic, with Richards 21st and Ferrie 22nd.
The 15-km race was won by Paralympian multi-gold-medalist Brian McKeever.
Palmer, Locke, and Ferrie are all first-year seniors and had their hopes set on making the U23 World Championship team.
“Right now in the country we have quite a strong under-23 field, but the boys were just outside,” said Wood. “I mean the next one to be selected probably would have been Julien.”
Selected for the U23 World championship team were Knute Johnsgaard from Whitehorse, Patrick Stewart-Jones and Sebastien Townsend of Nakkertock Nordic and Andy Shields from Lappe Nordic in Thunder Bay.
“Townsend was third in the Skiathlon and Colin was fourth, and Julien was the next guy in sprint, but the team can only be so big. But I think overall for the event, they really came up and skied at a high level.”
In the junior category, Black Jack’s Daniel Merlo topped the podium with a first-place finish in the .8-km free sprint on Saturday and seventh in the junior boys 7.5-km classic on Sunday.
Chiaki Yamamoto also podiumed taking bronze in the .8 km sprint, while Nicole Perrin placed 21st in the Junior Women’s 10-km classic and 18th in the 5-km classic.
The Black Jack skiers continue their frantic pace with Kootenay Cup races in Kimberley this weekend, a B.C. Cup in Kamloops the next, and the Eastern Canadian championship in Ottawa at the beginning of February.
“The club is competing very well and at a good level,” said Wood. “We’re relatively a small support group that’s going up against some pretty big teams and we’re competing effectively. But it’s good to recognize all those people who are working hard for the club.”
Olympic notes: The Canadian Olympic cross-country ski team was named in Calgary Tuesday with six men and five women selected.
Named to the men’s team were Alex Harvey of St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., Devon Kershaw of Sudbury, Ivan Babikov, Canmore, Graeme Killick, Fort McMurray, Jesse Cockney, Canmore, and Lenny Valjas, Toronto. Women include: Chandra Crawford, Canmore, Daria Gaiazova, Banff, Heidi Widmer, Banff, Emily Nishikawa, Whitehorse, and Perianne Jones, Almonte, Ont.