Kocher comes in guns ablazing

Knows biathlon's profile would be raised if she could win a medal

By TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

VANCOUVER -- She was maybe six or seven years old. And her brother was three or four. That's when Zina Kocher marched in her first Olympic opening ceremony.

"We had our own parade with flags, marching around our house in Red Deer," she remembers.

"We set up a lot of things. Had a big show with drums and instruments."

Kocher will march in her second Olympic opening ceremonies Friday before she takes her trademark pink rifle to Whistler with every expectation of improving on her 17th, 27th and 62nd place positions in biathlon at Torino 2006.

Kocher finished fourth in a World Cup event in December and has been regularly in the top-15 this season.

As a little girl growing up in Red Deer, when she wasn't producing opening ceremonies with her younger brother Kye, her Olympic dream was to be a downhill skier.

"I loved downhill skiing. I started when I was four years old at Red Deer's Canyon," said Kocher. "My mom, Anneli, was a downhill ski instructor. She grew up in Australia. She worked in Europe -- at St. Anton, Austria -- which is where she met my dad who was there on vacation.

"My mom also put me in cross-country skiing in the jackrabbit program when I was seven," said the now 27-year-old.

Kocher didn't take up biathlon until Dennis Sjolie told her the zone was looking for biathlon competitors to take to the 1998 Alberta Winter Games in Red Deer.

"He wondered if I'd like to try it. I was always into trying something new, so I said sure."

She decided to do a couple more events the following year, had some success, made it to nationals, won a spot on the national team, graduated from high school and moved to Canmore to start training full time.

"I worked very hard and made it to the world junior in Khanty-Mansisysk, Russia, in 2001 and finished 14th."

In her rookie year on the World Cup circuit in 2003-04, she finished in the top-30 five times. Meanwhile she watched Beckie Scott and Sara Renner achieve greatness in cross-country skiing.

"They were a huge inspiration."

It's only now as Kocher goes to Vancouver 2010 looking for "top-15 positions, for sure" that Myriam Bedard is kicking in as an inspiration.

Bedard, in Lillehammer, won two golds and was Canada's first star of the Olympics in a sport where our country is counted out, as we were in cross-country until Scott and Renner came along.

"We're not ranked up there with Germany, Norway and Russia, but knowing that we had someone on the podium, that a Canadian can do it like she did and like Beckie and Sara did, is definitely inspiring."

Somewhere in there is her goal -- to be an inspiration, too. And in some ways, she has, if you count pink guns and nude calendars.

"Painting my gun pink came in 2006," she said. "There weren't any other pink guns and I wanted to provide myself with a bit of an identity. So I decided to make it girlie and go pink. Now a lot of the girls have followed me. It's become a trend."

The calendar which received national publicity when the five members of the women's team not only doffed their duds for the calendar but promoted it by roller-skiing through the Calgary downtown core on a frigid morning during noon hour with nothing more than shorts, race bibs for tops and their traditional biathlon rifles locked on their backs.

It was a huge hit and raised over $100,000 for the girls.

"It brought the girls together to try to do something. Creating sponsorship in biathlon is very challenging. Before we decided to do the calendar we bounced around a lot of ideas."

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