Canada probably holds a special place in the heart of Anastasiya Kuzmina, the Slovakian biathlete: it’s where she had the biggest triumph of her career, winning a gold medal in the sprint at the 2010 Olympics. She followed that up with silver in the pursuit. Besides being the Olympics, the gold was actually the first win of her career; she has since won three World Cup races, all sprints, and garnered a number more podium finishes.
But for most European athletes, that wouldn’t mean much. Canada is far away, many time zones and an entire ocean to cross; Canmore, where most of the Canadian biathletes train, is particularly far west. Biathlon’s World Cup hasn’t visited Canada since the Olympics, so most elite athletes haven’t thought of revisiting.
That’s not true of Kuzmina, who came back to Canada for the second time this fall to do a training camp on Frozen Thunder. It was the second year in a row that she attended, training and time trialing with the Canadians.
“Anastasiya is a great friend of Biathlon Canada,” Canadian High Performance Director Chris Lindsay told FasterSkier in an interview ten days ago. “We are really, really happy that she has come the last two years. It’s great for our women’s team.”
Most European teams head to Scandinavia for early on-snow skiing, but as Kuzmina said, she wasn’t interested. She also has one more connection: originally from Russia before she married coach Daniel Kuzmin, she knew Ivan Babikov. That made it a bit easier to plan a trip.
It paid off, as Kuzmina believes that the fall training camp was important for her preparation. Plus, she simply had fun.
“I would like say a big thank you to all the people in Canada for a great time spent in your country,” she told FasterSkier. “I hope to be back here more than once.”
Still, it seemed like a big risk to take right before the start of the World Cup season: all that flying, and adjusting time zones back and forth. Over e-mail, we talked to Kuzmina about what keeps drawing her back, and how she’s preparing to defend her gold medal – and to return to Russia.
FasterSkier: I was recently talking to Chris Lindsay at Biathlon Canada who calls you a “great friend of Canadian biathlon.” How did you decide to go train at their venue for the first time two years ago? Do you know the athletes well?
Anastasiya Kuzmina: Last year when our small team decided to go on a “first snow training camp,” and since we don’t really like to training in Scandinavia in October-November, we decided to come to Canmore. We contacted Tom Zidek [originally Czech and a now a wax tech and coach for Biathlon Canada] and Ivan Babikov, who’s helped us a lot with the organization of the camp in Canada as in the last and this year. And we haven’t lost. Here we found a warm welcome from all the coaches, athletes, and stuff of Nordic Center, excellent conditions for training, so good snow condition for this period.
FS: What makes “Frozen Thunder” a better place to train than the places in Europe that have early snow at this time of year?
AK: It’s not only “Frozen Thunder”. In Canmore there is a lot possibility for different trainings (running, gum, special trainings). It is also very important to have the altitude like in Sochi.
FS: How long did you get to spend in Canada, and what were your focuses for training while you were there?
AK: Last year we were in Canmore one month, and this year 25 days. Mainly it was trainings, but rest days we visited in Calgary and Banff. We would like to come back to Canmore in summer time.
FS: Are you happy with the time trials that you did? I heard you also did a 1-on-1 mass start with Zina Kocher, how was that? Is it good preparation for the World Cups coming up?
AK: Tests with the Canadian girls and Zina were very good pre-season training. A bit of stress before the first World Cup never hurts. At last, my shooting in the trainings was good and this is a positive for me. I hope for the girls it was also good that I’m participating there.
FS: Between this and your trip to New Zealand this summer, you have been doing a lot of training and racing away from home! What is the goal of that, and is it hard to travel so much during the training season?
AK: The athlete’s life is always travelling, there is no escape. We are looking for the best place for training camp in the world, and it’s not always close to home!
FS: I have to ask: what was it like racing against Justyna Kowalczyk this summer? [note: Kuzmina competed in the cross country ski races at New Zealand Winter Games, where she was second to the Polish ski star]
AK: When the competitions have the opportunity to compete with one of the best skiers of our time, it gives positive energy for training in the future. We have very good relations with Justyna and hope that she will win several medals in Sochi!
FS: Is there a lot of pressure going into the Olympics since you won the gold medal in Vancouver, or any expectations to repeat the result? Or do you feel like it is just the same, that you only have to do your best and see what happens?
AK: Every season and every competition is pressure for each athlete. Olympic Games is very special event, and in this reason I do not want to expect anything. I have to wait and see.
FS: How does it feel to be going to Russia for the Olympics? Does it still feel like home for you, and do you have many fans there, or will it be a strange experience to be racing there but for Slovakia?
AK: My home is now in Slovakia, but I always enjoy coming to Russia where my family and friends still are. I very much hope that the Olympics will be held to a very high level and that I’ll remember them as happily as I do my first Olympics in Canada.
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.