While ski season may be a little premature for most, for National Ski Team (NST) member Julien Locke and his ‘new’ coach, the real work began months ago.
Locke is in his second year with the Canadian National Ski Team, but has re-enlisted Black Jack Ski Team coach David Wood as his full-time coach and mentor to help him prepare for an Olympic-qualifying year.
“Last year was overall a decent season,” said Locke. “I’m really happy this year to be fully working with my coach Dave (Wood) again in Rossland. Last year I was between two programs and this year I’m more settled just working with Dave again.”
Following a decade as head of the national team program, Wood became head coach of Black Jack in 2010. Locke will continue to train in Canmore with the NST, but Wood will oversee his program and has complete control over the 24-year-old’s training regimen.
“I thing it’s good,” said Wood. “He’s certainly a lot more comfortable working with the club and the people here. And that’s always been our goal when I started working here, we wanted to have a program where we could raise athletes up to the international level and they could stay at home, and keep it much more affordable for them.”
Locke has been preparing for the upcoming Olympic season over the summer with an intense series of camps and high-altitude workouts with both the NST and the Black Jack Ski Team.
The NST ran an 18-day camp in Park City, Utah earlier this summer at an altitude of 2,500 metres, then Locke joined the Black Jack Ski Team for a few days at the Haig Glacier in the Rockies to ski on ice. Last season’s Buff Sprint Series champion returned to the Haig Glacier three more times in August with his teammates, an indication of how critical off-season preparation is.
“The training has been the best its ever been this summer,” said Locke, who returned to his home in Nelson last week for a short break. “It was exciting to be up at the glacier with the young (Black Jack) kids and to see them training hard. They all had some great results last winter.”
Locke was also impressive last season, placing second in the skate sprint at the Haywood Nor Ams in Rossland and at the Western Canadian championship in Whistler. He also captured second at the US National championship in Soldier Hollow, Utah, before racing to first place finishes in the classic sprint and the skate sprint at the Korean National Championships in Pyeongchang, Korea.
Locke competed in two FIS World Cup events, racing to 36th in Pyeongchang in the classic sprint and 20th in the skate sprint at the world championship in Quebec City. He joins Doug Gudwer and Rossland’s George Grey as the only BC men in cross-country ski history to have finished in the top-20 on the FIS World Cup.
Going into the 2017-18 ski season, Locke has his sights set firmly on the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, and will need to be at his best at the right time to qualify.
“This year’s an Olympic year, and the Olympics are the big goal for the season,” said Locke. “I raced my first World Cups last year and they went pretty well, and I feel like I was moving in the right direction, but this year I have to race very fast when it counts.”
The opportunities are there and Locke is in prime position to earn a spot and ski on the Olympic squad, says Wood.
“I think of those not qualified, he’s the best. His best World Cup result was 20th and nobody else was. He’s shown himself to be in the driver’s seat, he just has to go out and do it.”
However, the quest for an Olympic spot is not easy. The first test is the World Cup Trials on Nov. 1 in Canmore, where skiers can qualify for the first leg of the World Cup races in Finland, Norway, and Switzerland. With good results at the World Cup events, Locke can qualify for the Games. If that doesn’t happen, he’ll have one more shot at the Olympic Trials Jan. 6-10 in Mont Ste. Anne, Que.
“It’s not a great situation, because it’s going to force athletes to use themselves up getting to the Olympics, and then we just have to hope there is something left when they get there,” said Wood.
Nevertheless, with promising past results, a successful summer training program, and the support of the Black Jack coach and team, the Nelson skier is locked-in on his quest for qualifying for a Team Canada spot at the Olympics.
“Qualifying has been a goal of mine ever since I was seven and I’m still just as motivated to do that as I was when I was younger,” said Locke. “The perspective changes as you get older, and you get closer and closer to that goal, but it’s still as much of a challenge, and it still motivates me every day when I get up to go training.”
Locke receives support from the Byram Family Foundation and Rancho Vignola, and returns to Park City next week with the NST for more training for the upcoming Olympic season. Locke is also expected to compete in the Haywood NorAm when it returns to Rossland and the Black Jack Ski Club Dec. 15-17.