Naked ambition pays off

ALISON KORN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

One year after starring in a sellout nude fundraising calendar, Olympic biathlete Zina Kocher is $20,000 richer and has a new sponsor.

But lucrative as it could be to create another eye-catching calendar -- and requests are still constantly coming in -- Kocher isn't tempted.

"When we sold out, we knew that we weren't planning to do anything this year because it was the Olympic year, and our training schedule was going to be a lot tighter, and were going to focus on having great recovery and training quality at its highest," said Kocher.

Significantly underfunded compared to their international biathlon competitors, Kocher and her teammates' "Bold, Beautiful Biathlon" calendars were sold online and in person by the athletes as they travelled the world.

After all 5,000 calendars sold at $25 each, an additional 1,000 were printed in January to meet the international demand.

The five athletes each netted about $20,000 after selling every single copy. And then they stopped. The project was tons of work, a huge distraction and they'd achieved their goals of promoting healthy female bodies and bolstering their finances. Now they're enjoying the payback for all that hard work.

"It just provided a lot more security for all of us," said Kocher, who placed 26th at the 2006 Turin Olympics in Italy.

"If we wanted something extra that wasn't provided by our team, we were able to get it and we didn't think twice."

The team leaves Nov. 19 for the first World Cup of the season in Sweden, and will be travelling and competing nearly constantly until March. After the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the women intend to bring back the "Bold, Beautiful Biathlon" concept in some shape or form. Another calendar is an option. (They might want to trademark that name, too.)

Because it's not like their financial burden has gone away: Team fees are $1,700, plus a $2,000 bill, at least, for World Cup touring.

"We are still a sport that is underfunded," Kocher said.

But even though the biathletes are out of the calendar business at the moment, the project is still paying dividends. Intrigued by the athletes' bold marketing initiative, The Gun Centre in Kitchener, Ont., reached out to the athletes with the idea for a southern Ontario visit in an effort to provide additional financial support.

So last week, Kocher, of Red Deer, Megan Imrie, of Falcon Lake, Man., and Rosanna Crawford, of Canmore, stopped off to showcase their sport on their way back to Alberta from Europe. The athletes spoke at schools, signed autographs and attended corporate events, including a fundraising dinner.

The Gun Centre is now sponsoring the group and organizing initiatives expected to raise over $20,000.

"I think they're awesome examples of what you can do if you want to," said owner Phil O'Dell.

"We're not doing anything that requires their active participation. We just want them to train and compete and do the best they can."

And if it took a nude calendar to get them the exposure that netted a sponsor, so what?

"They're clearly people who are not afraid to make their own way," said O'Dell. "And what's wrong with making a few waves if it raises the profile of the sport and raises people's interest and generates funds to be able to compete? Right on."

alison_korn@hotmail.com


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