Canadian biathlete Zina Kocher knows T-bar love stories do come true.
Her parents told her all about them.
Thirty-two years ago, on a T-bar in St. Anton am Arlberg in Austria, a young Canadian vacationer sidled up next to an Austrian ski instructor. About 1,300 metres above sea level, chemistry crossed cultures and the two fell madly in love.
The young Canadian – John Kocher – decided to stay in Austria with beautiful ski instructor Anneli for a few years before moving to Canada, where they raised their two children, Kye and Zina.
The scene was revisited this year, Kocher said, as the nation’s top female biathlete met up with her family in St. Anton. John and Annali Kocher returned to the scene of their first meeting at the ski hill this Christmas and brought their children along for the trip.
The Canadian biathlon team decided to stay in Europe this year to prevent travel fatigue, allowing Zina to take part in the event.
The Kochers, plus Kyes’ girlfriend Ellie and Zina’s boyfriend Ian gathered for Christmas at the famous Austrian resort.
“We have always celebrated Christmas on the 24th, so we had a special dinner that night; and instead of all of us exchanging gifts we did a fun Chinese auction. Growing up, we used to go skating after, and during this time ‘Santa’ would visit the house,” Zina Kocher said.
Days and evenings skiing and on the ‘rodelbahn’– natural luge courses - filled their vacation days, before Zina Kocher returned to the world cup circuit in Oberhof.
The Kocher family has always been supportive of the sport. Zina’s uncle donated $100,000 to the biathlon team from his oil and gas exploration company earlier in the year, and her parents moved to Canmore this August.
She’s appreciative of the time.
“The most important aspect of Christmas is the reunion of loving people in your life.
I don’t remember all the gifts I received growing up, but I remember the magic of lit candles all over our house, the smell of the gingerbread men we made together, skating on the pond together, downhill skiing all day on Christmas at -40 C, the many friends that joined us throughout the years, and our extended family getting together for the more traditional turkey day,” Kocher said.
Staying in Europe over the holidays is a new move for the team. Being a non-Olympic year, the coaches wanted to experiment with different strategies. Eliminating jet lag is one of those techniques.
“We are able to train more effectively as we do not have to deal with the long travel days, jet lag and recovery time from the travel,” Kocher said.
However, the strategy is not without its problems.
The biathlon team had a difficult December, failing to post many strong results; however, the hope is they will be well rested for January during the lead up to the world cup.
“The disadvantages are related to the stress of being away from home. Being away from family, your own bed and home routine, and this is an emotional toll,” she said.
“I am a big believer of balance in order to succeed. It’s very important to be able to get away from the sport and mentally recover just as much as physically recover.
Therefore, my week in Austria with my family and having the option of downhill skiing for a couple days is a great escape from my ‘normal’ biathlon life on the road.”
Kocher trained in Ridnaum, Italy after Christmas instead of returning to Canada.