Frozen Thunder was unkind to Julien Locke in 2016. The sprint phenom finished second in both qualifying races, and watched Bob Thompson earn a trip to the world cup.
He wasn’t about to let that happen in 2017.
Locke edged sprint star Lenny Valjas by four one-hundredths of a second in the classic sprint qualifier at the Canmore Nordic Centre on Wednesday (Nov. 1) to clinch Canada’s final world cup berth.
“I’m quite relieved, actually,” said Locke. “It was a big goal for the early part of the season to go to the world cup.”
In the lead-up to the event, a three-way battle for the final world cup spot emerged between Locke, Thompson and Dominique Moncion-Groulx. But, once race day began on a fast Frozen Thunder track, Locke displayed great power and a quick tempo on the final lap to secure the victory in 3:37.81.
“The game plan was to come into the race in good shape. There was only one spot available and it all came down to this morning,” Locke said.
Valjas, who already has a world cup spot secured, was just behind Locke with a time of 3:38.78. The two will join Devon Kershaw, Alex Harvey, Graeme Killick, Knute Johnsgaard and Jess Cockney on the men’s team.
“Lenny is a good benchmark. It’s good to compete against him and see where I stand,” Locke said.
The 24-year old spent much of the summer training with the world cup team, and the camp work appears to have paid off. Training under former national team coach Dave Wood, the Nelson, B.C. native now needs to achieve a top-30 result to secure a trip to the Olympics. This first trip will be a special one, he said.
“I’ve never been to Scandinavia. I’m interested to see the origins of Nordic skiing. It’s something I’m really interested in,” Locke said.
Moncion-Groulx was next in line for the world cup spot, finishing third with a ‘time of 3:41.38, while edging Thompson off the podium. Frustrated by just missing the trip overseas, Moncion-Groulx said he did everything he could on the course, and must now focus on Olympic trials in January.
“It was a good race. I’ve practiced on that course the last couple of weeks … I skied exactly the way I wanted. I used all my plans. I did my plan perfectly … I need to be happy with my race,” Moncion-Groulx said. “I’m just missing a little bit. I did the best I could today. I am sure my time will come.”
After the qualifier, Valjas secured the win in the king’s court race with a lunge across the line to edge Thompson. The big sprinter never attacked and sat back on the climbs to conserve energy for the final push.
Valjas and Locke tangled on the penultimate corner, allowing Thompson to take off with his stellar double pole power. Valjas made a slick move on the outside before the final stretch to draw even, and outlunged him for the win.
“These guys were strong and I was lucky to nip them at the end. I was able to use their speed on the downhill to get a little bit of a slingshot, but they are sking hard,” Valjas said. “Everyone is skiing well. Everyone brought their A game. I liked how in every heat, people were skiing tough. They were attacking.”
The women’s race didn’t have a world cup spot on the line, as Canadian Olympic team selections will likely be decided in January. Dahria Beatty dismantled the field by a whopping nine seconds, as she finished in a time of 4:20.66. American Chelsea Holmes finished second (4:29:22) and Katie Weaver of B.C. was third. The huge win was a good sign for Beatty, who said she tends to rush in her early season races.
“I was trying to keep it more relaxed, so I could have more powerful movements, and hopefully, in turn, be faster. I’ve been trying to work on it the past few years and it usually takes me a few races to get into it,” Beatty said.
Beatty is ready to make her Olympic debut in 2018 in 98 days time, and could end up on Canada’s Tour de Ski team as well.
Maya MacIsaac-Jones lost a ski tip in the qualifier, but managed to secure the win in the heats. She outmuscled Holmes with a brilliant double pole effort in the final 25 metres.
“I tried to stay relaxed on the first lap and not blow up. Heading into the final straight, I squeezed through on the outside,” MacIsaac-Jones said. “Frozen Thunder is not like a normal race where everyone is on their A game, but it’s a confidence builder for me, with Olympic trials being a classic sprint in January.”
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