Brendan Green

Kocher named to Olympic biathlon team

CALGARY — Jean-Philippe Le Guellec surprised many biathlon observers in 2012 when he became the first Canadian to win a men’s World Cup in the sport. He hopes to make some more history next month by reaching the podium at the Sochi Olympics.

CALGARY — Jean-Philippe Le Guellec surprised many biathlon observers in 2012 when he became the first Canadian to win a men’s World Cup in the sport.

He hopes to make some more history next month by reaching the podium at the Sochi Olympics.

Le Guellec was one of eight biathletes nominated Thursday to the Canadian team for the 2014 Winter Games. He was joined by Calgary’s Nathan Smith, Scott Perras of Regina, Brendan Green of Hay River, N.W.T., Rosanna Crawford of Canmore, Alta., Megan Heinicke of Prince George, B.C., Megan Imrie of Falcon Lake, Man., and Zina Kocher of Red Deer, Alta.

There will be five Olympic disciplines (relay, mass start, pursuit, sprint and individual) for each gender in biathlon, which combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. The mixed relay event will make its Olympic debut in Sochi.

Le Guellec’s breakthrough victory came in Sweden just over a year ago. The 28-year-old from Shannon, Que., shot clean despite challenging conditions to win the men’s 10-kilometre sprint.

He finished fourth in the 20K individual competition when he returned to Ostersund this season and feels he’ll be ready to peak at the Games.

“There’s no miracle recipe,” Le Guellec said from Quebec City. “I worked really hard during the summer to put things in place to have a good season, and then during the season I’m putting things in place to have the best performances in Sochi.

“It all boils down to that essentially. There’s no magic.”

Le Guellec, who finished sixth in the sprint at the 2010 Vancouver Games, feels there is “absolutely” podium potential on the Canadian team.

“Every single athlete is at such a great level now that we couldn’t really be asking for a better team right now,” he said. “It’s the best team we’ve had ever, which is really exciting.”

The Canadian squad has posted some decent results this season. Smith finished eighth in a World Cup pursuit last month in France and the women’s team just missed the podium with a fourth-place finish in the 4×6-kilometre relay.

However, Olympic success is a tall order in a sport that is traditionally dominated by European athletes.

Canada has never reached the men’s biathlon podium at the Games. Myriam Bedard was the last Canadian to win an Olympic medal in women’s biathlon — taking double gold at the 1994 Games in Lillehammer.

Kocher is the only woman on the current national team to win a World Cup medal, taking bronze at Ostersund in 2006. The Olympic biathlon competition begins Feb. 8 at the Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center with the men’s 10K sprint.

“This group of athletes may be the most underrated team in Canadian Olympic sport, but we are fiercely driven to capitalize on our position of flying under the radar and make some noise in Sochi,” said Biathlon Canada high-performance director Chris Lindsay.

“For the first time ever we are naming a full team of athletes that nearly all have Olympic experience, and that is a significant competitive advantage in fielding a biathlon team that is ready to legitimately challenge for the Olympic podium for the first time in nearly two decades.”

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