Black Jack cross-country skier Julien Locke is set to start his second full season on the International Ski Federation’s (FIS) World Cup circuit.
The Nelson native has been training in Davos, Switz. with National Ski Team (NST) veteran Alex Harvey at a 10-day camp leading up to the first World Cup race of the season in Kuusamo, Finland this weekend.
“My first goal for the winter is to start the season with strong performances in the three World Cup sprints before Christmas,” said Locke. “Head-to-head racing in the sprint heats is my strength and the objective is to give myself the chance to do so every weekend.”
It was a productive summer of training for Locke and Black Jack ski coach David Wood. Locke joined up with the National Ski Team in Canmore in July for training and followed that up with high-altitude skiing at the Haig Glacier near Banff.
“The training season has gone very well,” said Locke. “In total, I spent 14 days on snow in July and August along with a high volume of roller skiing and running.”
Locke then travelled to Quebec for two weeks for an intensity-focused training block with teammate Harvey and then had an “incredible” altitude camp in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. in October.
“I’m pleased with the preparation so far,” said Locke. “I set a new PB on the roller-ski treadmill and I feel that we’ve made some good adaptations for both the ‘engine’ and speed. Coming out of three weeks at high altitude in Mammoth Lakes, I’m feeling very fit right now.”
Locke just missed a selection to the Olympic team after first place finishes in the sprint at the Olympic Games Trials in St. Ferreol les Neiges and at the World Cup Trials in Canmore. Locke also had great results in his rookie season on the World Cup circuit placing 36th in Davos in December, 15th in Dresden in January, and 32nd in Falun in March.
“Last winter was a big step up for me in terms of the level of competition,” said Locke. “It was my first year racing on the World Cup full time and I entered every sprint on the World Cup calendar.”
Locke will focus on the team and individual sprints again this year, and his experience against the world’s best has taught him to treat each race as a learning curve. With sprint races decided by 1/100th of seconds, competitors continually deconstruct their technique, pace, and race strategy to find the smallest improvements.
“To me, the biggest goal is always to execute the plan well when the pressure is highest, and that’s something I believe I did well last year. I also feel that I can build off of my observations from last winter, particularly for pacing and how to approach each World Cup course … Relative to last year, we’re looking for a 1 per cent improvement in the sprint qualifying times. The margins are small and I’m optimistic given the improvements we’ve made this summer.”
Locke and Harvey are working with newly designated NST coach Louis Bouchard in Davos, but his relationship with Wood, a former NST coach, is still strong and consultation ongoing.
”We have been working together for eight years now and have built a really solid program,” said Locke. “Dave is constantly raising the bar and this year in particular, we’ve been trying new strategies. I’m appreciative of having a coach who is so committed to the process and to helping me develop as an athlete.”
The 25-year-old Black Jack skier’s goals are also tempered by experience, but training with three-time Olympian and multiple World Cup medalist Alex Harvey, son of ski legend Pierre Harvey, will be a definite confidence boost and hopefully result in more top-30 finishes on the World Cup circuit.
“As my teammate Alex Harvey pointed out to me, I had strong results in all parts of the season,” said Locke. “It’s reassuring to look back at the consistency of my racing and know that I performed well when I needed to.”
Following the World Cup events, Locke looks forward to competing in the Nordic World Ski Championships Feb. 19 to Mar. 3 in Austria, and also to an exciting end to the season with the World Cup Finals in Quebec City, Mar. 22-24.
“Two season’s ago, I finished 20th in my second World Cup on the same course, and I’m very excited to race there again.”