Black Jack skier Julien Locke booked his ticket to the U23 World Championships in Romania after racing to gold at the Haywood NorAm World Junior and U23 Ski Trials in Thunder Bay, Ont., Friday.
Locke earned a spot on the U23 World championship ski team with an incredible performance in the 1.3-kilometre sprint. The 22-year-old Nelson native raced to first in all three of the heats, before blazing to a three-second win over runner-up Patrick Stewart-Jones of Nakkertock Ski Team in the final.
“It was just good to see him execute each start perfectly,” said Black Jack Ski coach David Wood. “That’s perhaps been the big challenge. He’s been fast enough, but this time, tactically, he did everything perfectly.”
Locke won the Senior Mens final in a time of 2:25.87, blowing away the field by almost three seconds. Runner-up, Stewart-Jones, finished in 2:28.81, while Big Thunder skier, Angus Foster, of Thunder Bay came third in 2:29.81.
Locke finished his qualifying heat in 2:32.47 and got progressively faster as the day wore on, finishing first in the semifinal in 2:30.11, before taking close to five seconds off that time in the final.
“That all bodes well for the World championship,” says Wood, who has watched Locke improve steadily all season. After a slow start, Locke raced to bronze at the U.S. National Ski championship earlier this month, and Wood says his performance in Thunder Bay was one of his best.
“Mostly refining his tactics and psychology around executing (has helped). Physically I think it’s his best year, but he’s putting it together, and that in the past has been the challenge.”
Locke has moved on to Ottawa, where he will train and compete, as he prepares for the U23 World Championship in Rasnov, Romania. The Black Jack coach believes a top 12 finish at the World Championship would be an excellent result.
“His goal is to finish in the first 12 and that can open doors for him in the national program, and that is doable. If he can keep his shape like it is now, and execute like he is, it’s completely doable.”
Unfortunately for Black Jack skiers Colin Ferrie and David Palmer, Sunday’s 30-km skiathlon race was cancelled due to cold weather and was not rescheduled. Last year Ferrie earned a spot on the U23 World team following podium finishes in the skiathlon and 15-km skate, and Palmer was keen on improving on his third place finish among U23 racers in the 15-km race.
“Thunder Bay is cold, but we ended up losing one race which was a bad thing for the other guys, Palmer and Ferrie. For them to lose the distance skating race that kind of shot them down,” added Wood. “It never, ever did get close to race temperatures.”
Despite delaying the starts Sunday, with temperatures hovering around the -20C mark, organizers were forced to cancel the races.
Nevertheless, the win for Locke is yet another in a long list of Black Jack success stories. Palmer competed for Canada in the FIS Junior World championship in the Czech Republic in 2013, and Geoffrey Richards earned a spot on the junior team for the World Junior and U23 championship in 2012 in Turkey. With Ferrie and Locke advancing to the World U23 ski championships in consecutive years, the good results are a testament to the quality of the Black Jack skiers and their coach.
“Every year one of us goes, so that speaks well for the program,” a humble Wood added.
Joining Locke on the U23 men’s team is Scott Hill from Thunder Bay, Alexis Dumas from Skibec, Soo Finnish skier Jack Carlyle, and Big Thunder’s Foster.
The World Junior and U23 Ski championship goes in Rasnov, Romania from Feb. 22-28.