Cold weather couldn’t slow down Nelson’s Julien Locke, who sprinted to gold at the Canadian Olympic Trials and Junior Under-23 Ski Championship in Mont Ste. Ann, Que. on Friday.
The men’s sprint was pushed a day ahead due to cold weather, so with race temperature hovering around -16 C the Black Jack skier bested Canada’s elite in the men’s final, beating out Canmore Nordic’s Russell Kennedy by over a second, and bronze medalist Bob Thompson of Thunder Bay by over two seconds in the 1.35-kilometre sprint.
“I’m quite satisfied how it went on Friday,” Locke told the Trail Times. “I knew that I had to be first in the final, and had a great qualifier in the morning, and then skied the heats like I wanted to, so was happy with how it went.”
Locke made his way into the heats by finishing second in the top 30 in the morning’s qualifier, then came second in his quarter-final heat, before winning his semifinal race. The top two skiers in each of the five quarter-final and semifinal races automatically move on, and two lucky losers with the next fastest times also earn a spot.
In the final, Locke shot out front right from the start and led all the way, winning in decisive fashion in a time of three minutes 4.16 seconds.
“Right from the start in the final, I put the hammer down and just time-trialed myself all the way around the course.”
The gold was a benchmark result for Locke who defeated a field that included National Ski Team racers Jesse Cockney, Len Valjas and Knute Johnsgaard.
“Julien was incredibly good,” said Black Jack coach David Wood. “In the first two rounds he was a bit tactical. But in the final he just went wire to wire.”
But winning gold at the Olympic Trials doesn’t guarantee Locke a place on the Olympic ski team. According to Cross Country Canada’s (CCC) 2018 Olympic Games selection criteria, CCC will consider both qualifying and final results in its “sprint selection ranking process.”
In the men’s qualifying round on Friday, Kennedy qualified first (in 3:02.81 minutes) and Locke followed in second (3.06 seconds back). Should CCC select another male sprinter to its Olympic team, Kennedy’s second-place finish in the head-to-head final, effectively, means they were tied. But the tiebreaker is the qualifying round, which Kennedy won.
The most recent FIS quotas allocates only eight eligible athletes for Canada’s Olympic cross-country ski team, compared to 11 for Sochi in 2014.
However, more spots will likely open up. When other countries don’t fill their quota, the places will be redistributed to other countries, but that number won’t be known until Jan. 25, just three weeks prior to the start of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang.
Chances are, if more spots become available, the CCC will field a four-women team with one female sprinter and distance skier added. Graeme Killick will then likely get the call after meeting the “alternative qualifying Criteria A,” followed by a male sprinter, and female distance skier.
“It’s the biggest issue now for the Olympic team is selection,” said Wood. “The quotas down to eight, so we might get a couple more reallocated but maybe not, too. I think the most they’ll have is 10, and that still means that the men’s sprint position that Julien was fighting for will not happen.”
Locke now leaves for Europe to rejoin the World Cup team for the second leg of the season. His first start goes on Sunday in Dresden, Germany for the men’s sprint, followed by races in Slovenia and Austria, as he looks to improve on his results from the first leg of the World Cup.