By all accounts, Canada’s Zina Kocher had a great season on biathlon’s World Cup in 2012. After a disappointing Olympics in Vancouver and then a dismal 2011, she joined the newly-formed Biathlon Alberta Training Center, skated through trials races, and rejoined the World Cup, where she had three top-ten finishes and landed 19th in the overall standings, her best-ever ranking in nine seasons on the circuit.
This year she’s training to more consistently hit the top ten, and despite a temporary setback when she re-aggravated an old back injury, Kocher says her training is going well. She’s had several camps already, and along with the other Canmore athletes, she has a new toy to play with: a $200,000 ski treadmill that has been installed in the Bill Warren Training Center through a grant to the partnership of Cross Country Canada, Biathlon Canada, and the country’s paralympic nordic teams. Among the more standard ski treadmill features, this one, which was built in Calgary, has the ability to upload data taken on an actual racecourse, so it can simulate the terrain of venues around the world.
Kocher is currently in Park City, Utah, where she trained with the national “B” team and Canada’s cross country national team for a week; now, she’ll have a week there with her own Biathlon Alberta Training Center, and she’s sure to run into the many American skiers and biathletes who coming to town as well.
We caught up with Kocher for an interview from Canmore, just before she left for her Park City trip, and then checked in again partway through her camp. The following has been edited and condensed.
FasterSkier: So how is Park City?
Zina Kocher: Training has been awesome here. I love this time of year in Park City, and it’s been great to see the cross country women’s team this week and do an intense uphill interval session with them. We had a huge contingent of women training that day! But it’s busy. We also just had Fast and Female.
FS: Since you’ve been training with them… would you ever consider racing in a cross country World Cup? [Note: a typical ski for Kocher was at the last weekend of the 2012 World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, where her course times were the fourth, fifth, and eleventh-fastest over three days of racing]
ZK: Yes, sometime before I retire, I would like to do a skate World Cup race – distance, not sprinting! The Canadian women’s team is really strong in sprinting, but at the moment not as strong in the distance disciplines. It’s also a matter of figuring out how to fit it in. The biathlon World Cup circuit is a pretty busy schedule, so it’s a matter of when I can exchange one for the other. It would be cool to do a World Cup at home in Canmore, but it’s very unlikely for it to work this year!
FS: You have been training with the Biathlon Alberta Training Centre again instead of the national team. How has that been going compared to last year – has the team grown?
ZK: The size has definitely increased. I think at one point we had fifteen athletes during the summer. It was a lot, but I still get the individual attention that I need. We split into two groups during the summer, with the younger and new athletes going with Peter Zidek and the older athletes staying with Richard [Boruta]. So we had some division on the shooting range to keep the numbers under control.
FS: It seems like joining that team was a really good move for you last year. Are there any specific changes to your training plan this year?
ZK: It’s pretty much the same. We’re trying to do a little bit more volume this year, and to increase some of the volume around shooting specifically, just to build more confidence on the shooting range. But my season last year really provided a lot of the confidence I needed for this summer and going into the season next year.
FS: Do you have any specific goals for this year, or are you trying more to build towards the Olympic season next winter?
ZK: Definitely building towards the Olympic season, of course. But this year I’m trying to up the results, and get back on the podium and have some more consistent top-tens.
FS: How does it work for you training with the national team after you declined their nomination?
ZK: I was put on the “A” team this year, but I turned it down. But I’m still able to do, and they want me to do, testing with the national team. And camps – I haven’t made it to any of the camps because I’ve had my own camps. So I just have to pay for a few things, but I can do it. Richard works with the national “B” team coach, Roddy Ward, so I’ll be doing some workouts with them but probably not exactly what they’re doing.
FS: Are you automatically qualified for the opening World Cups this year?
ZK: Yes, I am pre-qualified. It’s definitely a relief. It’s great to be able to train and not worry about having to be mentally prepared for trials racing. I won’t have to decrease a training load at an awkward time this year; I can keep a training load going and get ready to race at the right time, which is the World Cups.
FS: How has your summer training been going so far? Did you see any improvements in this year’s “testival”?
ZK: Unfortunately I aggravated my back right during the week of testival, so I didn’t participate. I re-injured an old disc injury that I had from 2008. It was an accumulation of a few things – I fell rollerskiing and jammed up my back, and then I went and did strength a few days later and did something wrong with lower-body strength. I had to take a few days off, adjust my training, and go to physio every single day.
FS: After what has been going on with Brendan Green, hurting your back is probably kind of terrifying.
ZK: It is. I bulged a disc in 2008, so it was terrifying and I had a lot of worry and fear going on. But I just took it easy and slowly ramped it up as it got better and better. The shooting position was really painful, so I didn’t get to shoot for a few weeks. Luckily I was able to start skating a few days after injuring it, and skate skiing seems to be the least painful thing. I did a lot of swimming, and I was able to hike – hike up, but then take the gondola down! Now I’m 95 % or so, and I can start to run again. Everything is on the mend.
FS: We’ve heard there’s a new rollerski treadmill in Canmore.
ZK: Yes. We had it put in in the middle of June, and I did a test on it in June, and then the national team went on it in July.
FS: What did you have before? Will this have a big impact on testing and training?
ZK: Speedskating Canada had a treadmill that they put into the Olympic oval in Calgary. They thought that they would use it a lot for technique, but then they didn’t, so we used it a lot. But it was always a lot of driving, to go to Calgary just to use a treadmill.
[The new treadmill] is built into the ground, and the material is a little different than the one in Calgary – it’s a different type of rubber so the poles stick a little bit better. We’ve set up video cameras around the treadmill, so that we can work on technique and there will be a TV right in front of us so that we can see how we’re looking while we’re skiing.
FS: That’s pretty cool!
ZK: Yeah. We’re going to use it a lot for physical testing and higher-intensity intervals before we get on snow, as we go through that transition phase. It’s really great that we don’t have to drive to Calgary – it’s local, right at the nordic center, in the main building at the Bill Warren Training Center.
FS: You said the surface is a little different; are you able to compare your testing numbers to the ones from the old treadmill?
ZK: I’ve only been on it twice now, but it does seem like it’s a little bit different speed. We always keep one pair of rollerskis that we only use on the treadmill, so that we can keep things exactly the same [from test to test]. I did what we call a sustainability test, which is a 30-minute test where you have to stay on the treamill, which is put on a speed so that it is difficult, or almost impossible, for you to finish the 30 minutes. It was based on a test we did a few weeks before that in Calgary, but it was not very difficult for me to finish – it was more like I was doing a 30-minute threshold. The speed should have been higher. So it’s not exactly the same as the one in Calgary. It’s going to take some time to figure everything out. But as long as we do an incremental test, where you slowly push up the speed until you’re at your max speed, we should be able to find the right speed for things like sustainability tests. I don’t think it will be a big deal.