After a long spring of indecision, Anna Carin Zidek of Sweden finally announced her retirement from biathlon last week.
“I no longer have any desire, my motivation has disappeared, and so I will stop,” the 2006 Olympic gold medalist told an Ostersund newspaper. The announcement came after months of deliberation.
“Oh yes, there are many who wonder if I should continue or not next season,” Zidek had written on her blog in late April. “And frankly I do not know myself just yet, and yes I know I should take my decision now.”
As the spring progressed, the rest of the team went to Majorca for a training camp without her. It became more and more apparent that even if she did not retire, the 2012 season would not be a high priority for her.
Her last season had high points, but was mainly a struggle. Zidek finished ranked 10th overall on the World Cup, far from where she wanted to be.
“I have had to fight from start to finish,” she said after the last World Cup race in Oslo. “The body hasn’t been working properly.”
Zidek started her career as a skier, and made Sweden’s national team for the 2002 Olympics in Soldier Hollow. There, her top finish was 30thplace in the 15 k mass start (American Nina Kemppel beat her in a sprint finish). While Zidek – then Olofsson – was the top Swede in the race, she didn’t feel that she was succeeding as a skier. And so, even though she was already twenty-nine years old, she switched to biathlon.
“I got tired of cross-country skiing, after so many years, without any better results,” she told IBU News. “I had the choice to stop everything or maybe start biathlon. The training got much more fun when I started biathlon, and there was something more to do, the shooting.”
After a single season of training with Wolfgang Pichler, the German coach who had come to lead the Swedish team after turning Magdalena Forsberg into a six-time world champion, Zidek was representing Sweden in World Cup competition. By 2004, she had reached the top ten in a few World Cup races, and in 2005 picked up a silver medal at World Championships.
“I thought I was training very hard [in cross-country], but what I was doing then is nothing compared to Wolfgang’s training,” Zidek told IBU News.
“We train so much that you are tired pretty much all of the time. You do not have much time for seeing friends or family and if you have the time, you do not have the energy to do it.”
At the next Olympics she competed as a biathlete, not a skier. Zidek did not disappoint, winning gold in the mass start and silver in the sprint in Torino. After Forsberg’s retirement, many doubted that Sweden, not traditionally a powerhouse, would have a follow-up act. Zidek proved otherwise and became beloved by her country, where she is referred to as “ACO”, an acronym using her maiden name.
Since 2006, Zidek and her teammates have had many successes, including a win in the mixed relay at World Championships in 2007. That gold medal was in some ways more symbolic of the programs resurgence than Zidek’s had been; it showed depth, and a move away from the days when Forsberg was the only Swedish biathlete of consequence.
Zidek won twelve World Cup races over the course of her career, including the opening individual race in Ostersund, Sweden, last season. There, she became the oldest biathlete to grace the World Cup podium, much less win. The 37-year-old shot clean to beat France’s Marie-Laure Brunet by 8.3 seconds.
“I did not have much in the way of expectations today,” Zidek said at the time, foreshadowing a tough season. “My shape has not felt the best, nor has my shooting been very good. So I went into the race to do what I could: my best.”
At the end of 2011, the star had thirty World Cup podiums to her name. Zidek is married to Canadian wax tech Tom Zidek, and lives in Canmore part-time. She has one son, Liam, who was born the year after the Torino Olympics. Even though she spent much of her time outside the country, her departure leaves the Swedish team – already reeling from Pichler’s departure for Russia – with a hole to fill, and not only on the results sheet.
“It will feel empty without her for the winter, but I understand that she feels ready [to leave] in terms of training,” teammate Anna Maria Nilsson wrote on her blog. “ACO has been on the team a long time and it’s been a great advantage for us youngsters to have an Olympic champion to train with!”