With files from Jim Bailey
After a strong start at the cross country ski nationals, Black Jack skiers continued to make Rossland proud leading into the final day of competition on Saturday.
Rossland’s own Remi Drolet ended the Haywood 2016 Ski Nationals with two gold and two silver medals, Julien Locke placed third in the Men’s 1.2-km sprint final, and Chiaki Yamamota earned a silver medal in the 5-km classic and captured a bronze medal in the 20-km classic on Saturday.
“It [the Nationals] was very, very successful,” said Black Jack ski coach David Wood. “Julien ended up winning the sprint series overall, Remi [Drolet] was aggregate champion for his category, and David Palmer was aggregate champion for Under 23, and then there was individually good performance by lots of Black Jack racers.”
Remi Drolet, age 15, earned two silver medals in Juvenile Boys’ Sprints on Thursday, and on Saturday finished first in the Juvenile Boys’ 10-km Mass Start Classic, making the podium for every race he entered.
Drolet also placed first in the Juvenile Boys’ 5 km Interval Start Classic on Sunday, March 20.
“I felt pretty good on those days,” Drolet said of his two gold medal wins. “I was able to do my race plan as I wanted and I just had good energy throughout the whole race.”
His four medals were enough for Drolet to capture the overall National Juvenile Boys cross-country title. He also won the prestigious Sofie Manarin Award that goes to the top male and female juvenile skier (under 15 years) at the Canadian Cross-country Ski championship.
“We knew if Remi showed up in good shape here, they were his races to lose,” said Wood. “In BC he’s been the best even in the category above him any time he raced them too, so we knew that this was not a big surge for him.”
This was Drolet’s second year at Nationals, but he said he didn’t too as well last year because he was sick during the competition. He’s eager to build on this year’s success at next’s competition.
With his bronze-medal podium finish, Locke wrapped up the Haywood Buff Sprint Series championship title and Athlete of the Year award for his great results in the sprint races during the season and at the U23 World Ski championship in Romania last month.
Locke’s bronze medal firmly planted him among Canada’s top skiers, as the Nelson native finished behind Canadian National ski team members Alex Harvey who won gold and Lenny Valjas who claimed silver in the event.
“Last year he was second, but this was a far better race in terms of his performance,” said Wood. “He was fighting it out with Alex (Harvey) all the way around. I mean, of course Alex prevails but he’s among the five-best in the world so it was an extremely good performance.”
Locke jumped out to a good start on the 1,200 metre course. With two laps and an exciting downhill corner, he pushed Canada’s best to the very end and was just edged out of a silver by Valjas at the finish.
“I was optimistic, I knew he (Julien) was in a good way coming in, but you never know where everyone else is at,” said Wood. “Julien had really good preparation since he came back from Romania, and I knew he was going to be in the mix that’s for sure.”
Locke’s time of 2:15.43 put him less than a second behind Valjas, 2:14.48, and two seconds back of Harvey who clocked a gold-medal time of 2:13.39. Locke also finished ahead of Team Canada skiers Jesse Cockney who finished in 2:16.08 and Graeme Killick, 2:18.61.
The National ski championship was a positive ending to an already impressive season for Black Jack skiers and bodes well for the future. Results like Locke’s should garner him consideration on Canada’s ski team, but according to Wood, the former coach of the national team, that will be up to a cryptic selection process.
“We hope, but it’s out of our hands,” said Wood. “The selection process has been, let’s just say, ‘strange.’ Julien’s done all he can do and we just hope when the time for selecting comes, there’s some common sense that goes into the whole process.”