Olympian Zina Kocher was done.
The Canadian biathlete veteran of three Olympics in Torino, Vancouver and Sochi had made peace with her decision when she retired in 2016, content to move on to the next stage in her life.
She got married to boyfriend Alex Lawson and now studies massage therapy at Mount Royal University.
In Canmore, where she now lives, Kocher, 34, would be out running when she found herself interval training for no reason.
She ramped up the intensity perhaps because the Olympian in her was saying “you’re not done yet.”
In March this year, she learned the cross-country skiing Canadian National Championships would be held at the Canmore Nordic Centre, where she trained on occasion.
Kocher said it was the shooting that always caused her the most trouble while the skate-skiing was her strong suit in her biathlon days.
“I competed for so many years. I saw there was a race in Canmore and I thought I should enter a race. Why not. As soon as I make a goal like that, I think ‘Oh, I’m not in good enough shape’,” she said.
“I did do a couple of intensity sessions, but really, I wasn’t training. I felt OK in the 5k, but then the 30k was hard. When I was near the end of the race I didn’t have another gear.”
She won five-kilometre sprint, and finished second in the 30 km marathon event competing against members of the national team.
“It did feel really good. I wanted to do well but there also wasn’t any pressure. I was relaxed about it. It’s an awesome way to race like that,” she said.
She then talked with her longtime biathlon coach, Richard Boruta who she said sent a “funny email” about the possibility of the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. She trained all summer but Boruta, who coached her for more than 10 years, died in a climbing accident near Canmore in August. Kocher decided to pursue the Olympics for herself and her late coach.
“He wrote me a funny email after I did well at national championships, which I entered because I just felt like racing,” Kocher recalled.
“He made a comment about going for the next Olympics and I guess then really started contemplating it and thinking about it. Then decided I do want to pursue this.”
Kocher will compete is several local races including the Alberta Cup series, a World Cup race before the Olympic Trials in Quebec.
“I need to really work on my classic technique over the next couple months to be able to win those races basically,” she said.
Kocher said the difference now compared to her three Olympic appearances and her 12 World Cup opportunities, is both life and time. She isn’t doing this to prove anything to anyone.
She added not feeling the pressure was something she was only partially able to harness during her biathlon career.
“(Biathlon) was everything that I did and I had a lot of goals in biathlon that I wanted to achieve,” she said.
“I’m more relaxed about that because just having another aspect of my life that’s very important makes it not as primary.”
And whatever it will be, she’s ready to turn the page and close the book on the competitive chapter, no matter how it ends.
“I still feel pretty relaxed about it. What helps is I have something else,” she said.
“Racing isn’t my whole life. It’ll be awesome to fulfill this and to make it, if it doesn’t (work out) I’m not going to be heartbroken.”
Email sports info and tips to Byron Hackett
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter