Black Jack cross-country skier Julien Locke earned a spot on the Canadian World Cup Ski Team on Wednesday at the Canmore Nordic Centre’s Frozen Thunder.
Locke, a member of the National Ski Team (NST), shot out to an early lead and kept it all the way, finishing first in the men’s sprint, a second ahead of NST veteran Lenny Valjas, to earn the final spot on the World Cup team.
“I’ve raced the World Cup a couple times last year, but this is the first year I’m starting the season on the World Cup, and it’s a huge honour and opportunity,” said Locke from Canmore on Thursday.
The competitive field saw multi-world cup medalist Valjas take a back seat to Locke, and Nakkertok’s Dominique Moncion-Groulx finish third about four seconds off the pace, along with Bob Thompson of Team Hardwood.
“He executed well, and skied the course effectively,” said Black Jack ski coach Dave Wood, who also coaches Locke. “He was in control the whole way.”
“The plan was to race and try to have negative splits, because it was a two-lap race. Julien can go very fast but it’s important to survive to the end. His strategy going in, and we’ve been working on this quite a lot in training, to go fast, but still go faster (on the next lap).”
With the win, and solid finishes last season, that included a top-20 World Cup placing, Locke earned the final berth on the World Cup team for the upcoming December World Cup races in Europe.
“Performing on the World Cup and Olympics as well (are the big goals) and it’s great, because now I have the opportunity to go there and do that so it’s a big step forward,” said Locke.
The World Cup qualifier is the first crucial element in Locke’s quest for the Pyeongchang Olympic Games, which are less than a 100 days away. A top-12 finish or two top-30 results would go a long way to help his bid for the Olympic team, but it won’t be easy racing against the world’s best.
“It’ll be very hard because in the fall, the whole world is doing the same thing, so you’ll have fields of about 120 men,” added Wood. “So he has his work cut out for him.”
Defeating the veteran Valjas, who is pre-qualified for the World Cup and the winner of five World Cup medals, is a good marker for Locke and confidence builder. The Nelson native leaves for Europe this month with a stop in Sweden for the Scandinavian Cup before racing in three World Cup events in Ruka, Fin., Lillehammer, Nor., and Davos, Switz.
“I’ve been getting a lot of congratulations but for me it’s a small step in the broad scheme of things,” said Locke.
In Canmore, the athletes also competed using the Kings Court format, where all athletes are guaranteed three heat competitions, with the skiers moving up and down the rankings based on their heat results.
On the men’s side Lenny Valjas came out on top, followed by Bob Thompson and Locke in third.
Black Jack’s Remy Drolet finished 31st overall in the sprint and second among Junior competitors. Drolet and Locke will also compete at the Haywood NorAm at Black Jack in Rossland Dec. 15-17.