Black Jack skier Julien Locke mounted the podium at the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships Monday in Houghton, Michigan.
The 22-year-old Nelson native captured a bronze medal in the Men’s Open 1.5-kilometre freestyle sprint, and was first among U23 skiers with a time of three minutes, 18.38 seconds.
“It was a good race Monday, I skied well, and had good skis, and finished out pretty well,” Locke told the Trail Times from Houghton on Wednesday.
Locke attended the event to prepare for the Canadian World Junior/ U23 Trials in Thunder Bay, Ont. next week, and going against the best skiers in the United States seemed like a good warm up.
“I didn’t have the greatest start to the season in December,” said Locke. “We had issues with skis and my form wasn’t super good, so it was definitely nice to come here and have a good result.”
The veteran Black Jack skier finished just behind Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess who skied neck and neck with Reese Hanneman from the Alaska Pacific University Nordic Centre.
“I started moving up through the climbs, and then there’s some twisty sections, and just carried my speed well, and put in a good burst right at the beginning of the finishing straight, then moved up into third and just kind of held that position.”
Hanneman pulled away from Blackhorse-von Jess in the final metres to finish in a time of 3:15.14 to win gold.
“It was a good day for me and I know I am in really great sprint form right now,” said Hanneman in a release. “As soon as I won the qualifier I knew I had to use my power and save it until the right point on the course and go for the win and I came away with the win.”
The road to the final for Locke wasn’t easy. In the quarter final, Locke lined up with fellow Canadian skiers Evan Palmer-Charrette and Michael Somppi of Thunder Bay in what turned out to be a scorching fast heat where Locke finished fourth out of six skiers but still managed to advance to the semifinals.
“It was super fast,” said Locke. “There were three Canadians so we all knew each other and knew it was going to be tight to go through, so we pushed the pace on purpose, and we had somebody on course to give us splits.”
The top two finishers from each of the five heats advance to the semis, and then the two best times also move on as the “lucky loser.” Locke’s heat was so fast that the Black Jack skier’s, 3:15:52, eclipsed the time of all the other heat’s winners, so he and Somppi, in third place, advanced to the semifinals.
“We made a tactical decision to push the pace to get all of us through, and in the end it worked out.”
Locke then made it to the final after finishing third in semifinal heats, coming just 0.14 seconds back of Fredrik Schwencke of Northern Michigan University, who won the semifinal heat but would finish behind Locke in the final. The other Canadian to qualify for the final, Palmer-Charrette, came sixth.
The U.S. Cross Country Ski championship continues until Saturday, with the freestyle distance and classic sprints remaining. Locke will miss the 30-km freestyle race Thursday to save up for the classic sprints on Saturday.
“It’s a classic race, and the classic is my strength so I’d definitely like to be on the podium again,” said Locke.
“We have a skate sprint down there on Thursday, then a 15-k classic, and a 30-k pursuit, but the sprint is my strength so I’ll be playing my cards in the sprint.”
Last year, Black Jack skier Colin Ferrie advanced to the FIS World Junior and U23 championships in Turkey, and Locke would like nothing more than to take his turn this year, and qualify for the U23 Worlds in Romania, Feb. 23-28.