Black Jack skier Julien Locke raced to first place in the sprint at the U.S. National ski championships in Craftsbury, Vt. on Friday. John Lazenby photo.

Black Jack skier Julien Locke sprints to first at US Nationals

Black Jack skier Julien Locke grew stronger every race on way to win at U.S. Nationals

Black Jack skier Julien Locke wasn’t feeling 100 per cent when he woke up the morning of the U.S. National sprint championship in Craftsbury, Vermont on Friday, but he was feeling much better at the end of it.

Related read: Black Jack cross-country skier kicks off World Cup circuit

Locke grew stronger as the day wore on and the Nelson native raced to first place in the final, winning handily over US skiers Ben Saxton and Logan Hanneman.

“I actually wasn’t feeling so great this morning so I wanted to be a bit calm in the heats,” Locke said in a release. “And it was pretty obvious after the quarterfinal that that strategy was working because same thing there, I was a bit back at the start and then I could close down to the finish and I think a lot of guys were tying up because you know if you do a three minute sprint it’s a lot harder than doing a two minute sprint with a one minute warm-up, that’s kind of what I was doing today. I think it was just reinforcing that the first half of the course wasn’t very important.”

Locke began his day qualifying in ninth, then won the quarter-finals in 3:21.79 and his semi in 3:17.84. He continued to ratchet up the pace in the final, finishing in 3:15.4 and gliding across the finish line a full second ahead of runner-up Saxton and Hanneman in third.

“The final was fun,” said Locke. “I started a little bit slow, the other guys were really pushing off the line and I was dropped by a bit, but I just hung in there and stayed within contact. And then I knew that I was stronger on the climb, so I just waited until the technique zone and then I put the hammer down and skied harder into the finish.”

Although Locke won the race, Saxton claimed the prize as the top American and U.S. Nationals champion. It was his first after finishing in second in 2014 and ‘15 and third last year in Anchorage, Ak.

“It was a good clean race, everybody came through the technique zone pretty tight,” Saxton told FasterSkier in Craftsbury. “The Canadian Julien Locke grabbed a meter or two at the end. And I couldn’t quite grab him at the end but I had my hands full running from Logan Hanneman anyway. He’s one of the fastest finishers we’ve got.”

Locke, a member of the National Ski Team, began the season competing in Ruka, Fin. and Lillehammer, Swe. on the World Cup circuit and training with fellow NST member Alex Harvey.

The win comes less than a month after Black Jack skiers Molly Miller from Kimberley, and siblings Remi and Jasmine Drolet of Rossland qualified for the World Jr. and U23 Ski Championships after winning their events at the Haywood NorAm World Junior/U-23 Championships Trials in Canmore on Dec. 12-16.

Related read: Black Jack trio qualifies for World Jr. ski championships

The Black Jack skiers travel to Lahti, Finland to compete at the World Jr. championships from Jan. 20-27, while Locke will race in the Nordic World Ski Championships Feb. 19 to Mar. 3 in Austria, and wraps up the season with the World Cup Finals in Quebec City, Mar. 22-24.

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